EN: I forgot / I've forgotten

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Nate385, Dec 13, 2012.

  1. Nate385 Senior Member


    Sometimes, my teacher asks me questions and when I do not know the answer, I say: "I forgot". But I have recently noticed that maybe it is the wrong way to express myself. That is why I am not sure between "I forgot" and "I have forgotten".

    And also why is it the first one or the second one.

  2. djweaverbeaver Senior Member

    English Atlanta, GA USA

    I'd say that most times we would say "I forgot" because you neglected to remember at some point in the past, but I really can think of at least one example in which I'd say I've forgotten:
    Do you remember all of your vocabulary words? - No, I've forgotten them. In the case, this emphasis is on the period of time from which you were supposed to have learn the vocab list until the present moment in which you realize that you don't know them.

    In general, if a question is posed in the present perfect, then your response should usually be in the same tense and aspect. Likewise, if it's in the past, then your response normally is as well.

    I'd also add that there is a difference in BrE and AmE. British English speakers tend to feel and reflect an immediacy through the present perfect tense, whereas for American English speakers both the present prefect and the past tense are okay, but the past tense is more common. For example, you see someone that you've met before; however, you can't put a name with their face: "Oh, I remember you but I've forgotten your name." in BrE, but in AmE "Oh, I remember you but I forgot/have forgotten your name."

    I hope this helps.
  3. Nate385 Senior Member

    It has helped a lot! Thanks!

    But something has just come to my mind. Maybe I am mistaken, but when you are in this very situation (in front of your teacher), in my opinion it describes an event which is linked both to the past (a point in the past) and to the present (now I am in front of my teacher and I do not know the answer). So, I would rather use the Present Perfect instead of Past Simple.

    However, I am not a native speaker of England or America. That is why I would like to have your opinion.

    But otherwise, it was a very helpful!
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  4. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    Je crois qu’il y a quelque chose que tu oublies.
    Dans une langue, ce n’est pas la réalité, qui compte, c’est ce que tu en dis. De toutes façons, il est toujours possible de rapprocher un événement à une situation présente, ce qui fait qu’on pourrait TOUJOURS utiliser le parfait présent.

    En réalité, le parfait présent évoque vaguement une situation passée, mais c’est un temps qui sert à parler au présent.
    La phrase «tu te souviens de tout ton vocabulaire ?» est une phrase au présent. Elle attend nécessairement une réponse au présent. («Non, je ne m’en souviens plus», ou encore, «non, je l’ai oublié, maintenant.» (mais auparavant, tu t’en souvenais peut-être) C’est pour ça que dans ce cas, on peut employer le parfait présent, à cause du «maintenant» que j’ai mis en gras, qu’il est possible de rajouter, même si «je l’ai oublié» est au passé.

    Pour la question «Quand Napoléon est-il mort ?», la réponse «j’ai oublié, maintenant» est incongrue. C’est «j’ai oublié, je sais plus quand» ou «Ça fait longtemps que j’ai oublié ça, Madame», qui sont des réponses pertinentes. Au VRAI passé.
  5. The Prof

    The Prof Senior Member

    As a British English speaker, I agree with you. I would always use the present perfect in that scenario.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2012
  6. Nate385 Senior Member

    Ok. Merci pour ton commentaire Fred_C. Ça m'aide maintenant à faire plus facilement la différence entre utiliser le Présent Parfait ou le Vrai Passé. J'y vois plus clair! :)
  7. Tazzler Senior Member

    American English
    As a simple sentence I would only use "I forgot" or even "I forget" (weird that the present is used, but that's what is said.)
  8. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    When what you mean is "I'm sorry, but cannot remember what I need to know in order to answer that question," then "I forget" in the present tense is -- in US usage -- far more common than "I forgot," at least in the US. We Americans don't really use the present perfect here.

    When teacher says, "But you know you can't use the preterit with since! You shouldn't be making that mistake any more," you can of course use the preterit in reference to the moment in the past when you made the mistake s/he is correcting. --> "I'm sorry, I forgot."

    If you never knew the answer, saying you can't remember or that you have forgotten is simply inaccurate... ;)

    As Tazzler mentioned, it's not natural (in American English) to say "I have forgotten" as a simple sentence, but we can easily use this phrase in conjunction with other words. For example, if you cannot recall the vocabulary word that the teacher just mentioned 5 minutes ago, you can say "I've already forgotten," or if you can't remember the grammar topics you learned during the last term, you can say "I've forgotten a lot from last semester."
  9. The Prof

    The Prof Senior Member

    Speaking again as a BE speaker, I very rarely say "I forget" (present tense).

    My own use of it tends to be limited to occasions where I wish to convey the idea that I do know the thing in question but am suffering from a very momentary lapse of memory - in other words, the thing will not come to mind at that instant, but might well come back to me moments later. (I am at an age where this sort of thing happens all too frequently!)

    How's that man you work with? I forget his name!
    Where are my keys? I forget where I put them.

    Even then, I am more likely to use "I have forgotten". (And never "I forgot".)
  10. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Moi aussi.
  11. Nate385 Senior Member

    At least now, it is clear. From now on, I will have to choose between speaking whether in AE or in BE :).

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