simple past or present perfect


Senior Member
Hi friends,

The following conversation is at the beginning of lesson 103 in New Concept English Volume 1:

Gary: How was the exam, Richard?
Richard:Not too bad. I think I passed in English and Mathematics. The questions were very easy. How about you, Gary?
Gary: The English and Maths papers weren't easy enough for me. I hope I haven't failed.

My question is, why Richard and Gary use different tenses (see words in blue) to describe tests taken at the same time? How about both using the simple past or both using the present perfect, or Gary using "did not fail" and Richard using "have passed"?

Every response is appreciated.
  • Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    You're right; I think your textbook should have had both students refer to the exam in the same tense, with Gary saying "I hope I didn't fail." Also, mathematics should not be capitalized. (By the way, "maths" is British; the short form in AE is math.)


    Senior Member
    Thank you, Parla. I still do not understand why an authority in English language education writes a lesson in this way.


    Senior Member
    Both Richard and Gary are referring to a event in the recent past with present significance. The fact that Gary chooses to describe it using the present perfect instead of the simple past tells us that he feels the "present significance" more intensely than Richard. Yet each of them could use either tense, though the present perfect is more likely to be used with a more emotionally charged verb like "hope" than "think".

    In this context the present perfect is known as "resultative". A past event has caused a change of state, and the effects of the new state (or new potential state) persist to the present. The present perfect can continue to be used in this case right up until the person finds out the results, and even for a short time after. The more keenly the change of state is felt or feared, the more likely it is that the present perfect will be preferred to the simple past.
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