I seemed to know very well the difference between the Present perfect and the Past simple, but sometimes I’ve got some difficulties to understand the application
of these two tenses in the following sentences:
“What did they say? I didn’t understand the announcement.”
Is it possible to use the Present perfect in this case? And why
is the Past simple used here? Don’t we have an action finished in the past(relatively) and the result in the present?
Can I say “What have they said? I haven’t understood the announcement”?
Thank you in advance
I believe that past simple tense is suitable for this sentence. Because the action is just done and it doesn’t seem to be continued in the past.
For some reason, the present perfect wouldn’t sound right here, but it is very hard to explain. My theory is that the contrast between present perfect and simple past is used with verbs of perception to distinguish between what happened at a specific (relevant) time, and what happened at an unspecified time.
How is Julie? Or is she still sick?
I don’t know, I haven’t seen her all week.
This means there was no specific moment in the relevant period at which I saw her. No specific moment is mentioned or implied at which I might have seen her, just a period.
What was Julie wearing last Tuesday?
I don’t know, I didn’t see her.
This means there is a specific moment in the past that we are talking about, and I am telling you I didn’t see her at the time.
In your example, the saying and the (lack of) understanding took place at a specific moment in the past. How do I know this? I don’t, but it is implied: an announcement is normally made at a specific time. So both the saying and the understanding must have taken place at a specific time in the past. The other person probably knows when this specific moment was; it could have been a minute ago, or an hour, or even longer ago. If you ask what somebody said, this implies that you already know the other relevant circumstances about the act of saying that took place, including the approximate time, in so far as it is relevant. (A “specific time in the past” can still be somewhat vague, but there is some indication of this time.)
But I agree that this reasoning is by no means conclusive, and that you could theoretically defend the “present result of something that happened in the past”; all I know is that you will nearly always hear the simple past in this situation. I would not use the present perfect here. I think the fact that this is about perception is important, that somehow the “result” usage doesn’t work as well with verbs of perception.
If a sentence is negative, you could add the word “yet” to it as a test, and see if that would work. If it would not, then the present perfect won’t work either.
- *I haven’t understood the announcement yet.
This implies to me that you are still busy trying to understand the announcement, as though you were still studying it, somehow. But that is not possible in the present context: you either succeeded or failed at understanding it at the moment you heard it; it is not a continuing process. The same implication may not apply to all verbs, but I think the negative + “yet” test usually does work.
Not a teacher
I think your statement:
What did they say.
This is talking about a specific moment or the actual moment or time in which it was said. For instance:
What did the man said? He didnt say anything.
In this example the person was asked to say what the man had said at that time(so what is said by the man at that specific time only).
I haven’t understood the announcement yet.
This is talking about the present time so in the past you would say
I hadn’t understood it . this drags it to past.
Thank you very much for your help friends! I think I understand the principle now.