present perfect or past simple

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learning-eng

Member
Chinese
Hi all,
When it comes to talk about 90-year-old man, as I understand, the following two sentences can both be used:
A. He has been to London three times. (implying his experience and that he may go to visit London again)
B. He went to London three times. (just past events)
Am I right so far?
Here is the question I had in mind. If the man can hardly walk, are we then limited to using sentence B only? And why so or not so?
Thank you for your help.
 
  • 0hisa2me

    Senior Member
    British English
    In the UK, you could still say 'He has been to London three times', even though he can't walk, because his life is continuing, and it is conceivably possible that he could still go there, by ambulance, for instance. If he were dead, then you would definitely stop using the present perfect.
     

    learning-eng

    Member
    Chinese
    In the UK, you could still say 'He has been to London three times', even though he can't walk, because his life is continuing, and it is conceivably possible that he could still go there, by ambulance, for instance. If he were dead, then you would definitely stop using the present perfect.
    Thanks Ohisa2me.
    Then in this case, what is the difference in meaning between saying A and saying B? And what are the intentions / reasons etc. that people could have in their mind if they choose to use sentence A or B?
     
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    0hisa2me

    Senior Member
    British English
    Personally, I would find it odd to use B ("He went to London three times") if the person was still alive. It would imply that you were absolutely sure that there was no way that the person could ever visit London again under any circumstances whatsoever. There is something extremely definitive about it, whereas sentence A ("He has been to London three times") leaves open a possiblity, however remote it might be.
     

    learning-eng

    Member
    Chinese
    Personally, I would find it odd to use B ("He went to London three times") if the person was still alive. It would imply that you were absolutely sure that there was no way that the person could ever visit London again under any circumstances whatsoever. There is something extremely definitive about it, whereas sentence A ("He has been to London three times") leaves open a possiblity, however remote it might be.
    Does it mean it's purely out of being polite or nice to use sentence A?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Does it mean it's purely out of being polite or nice to use sentence A?
    It's nothing to do with politeness or whether he might go again: it's more to do with the writer's perspective on the events. If it's part of a biography or an account of the person's life then I'd generally expect the simple past to be used (sentence B). If on the other hand it's tied in with some recent or current event then the perfect tense (sentence A) would work better.
     

    learning-eng

    Member
    Chinese
    Thank you DonnyB.
    Going along the line as you explained, I should use simple past to talk about achievements / accomplishments of a retired tennis player, and use present perfect when talking about current tennis activities or comparing this tennis player with some other people. Am I correct?
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    That sounds to me a reasonable distinction to make, although I wouldn't like to guarantee that it's going to work 100% of the time.
     

    learning-eng

    Member
    Chinese
    Thank you DonnyB.
    It's language, not rocket science. So no need for and impossible to have 100% accuracy.
    I now have a better understanding about present perfect tense. Thanks again.
     
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