Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

The Difference Between Did and Have

Did is the past simple tense of the verb do, and is used to refer to a past action, that is, an action that has already been performed, as in ‘I did my homework yesterday,’ or ‘She did very well in her exams.’

Did can also be used to avoid the repetition of a verb or a verb phrase that has been used earlier in a sentence, as in ‘He was asked to switch off the lights, which he did,’ or ‘The doctor told him to keep away from red meat, which he did.’

The word have, of course, can denote different things, like possession, as in ‘I have two cars,’ or experiencing, as in ‘I have a headache,’ but more pertinently, in the context of this essay, it is used with the past participle to form perfect tenses, as in ‘I have had my dinner,’ (Present Perfect) or ‘He will have gone by the time you arrive’ (Future Perfect).

When Confusion Arises

Sometimes, confusion arises whether, in a particular situation, you should use did or have.

Consider the following sentences:

  • Did you play football in your childhood?
  • Have you played football in your childhood?

Is there anything incorrect about any of these sentences?

No, on the face of it, there isn’t.

Is one, then, as good as the other? Could you use any of the two you wish?

Perhaps, for most practical purposes, no one will raise an eyebrow if you do; but there is a subtle difference between the two sentences, and for those who want to get their grammar absolutely bang on, these subtle differences do make a difference!

Say, you say the first sentence to a 40-year-old. It has been quite some time since he was a child. Therefore, the past tense would be wholly appropriate when you refer to his childhood, and ‘Did you play football in your childhood?’ would be a grammatically perfect question in the context.

Now, you want to ask the same question of a 15-year-old. He has recently emerged from childhood, but is yet to enter adulthood. The Present Perfect tense would be more appropriate to his situation than the Past Simple, so that if you were to ask him, ‘Have your played football in your childhood?’ you would be hitting the bull’s eye.

Past Simple or Perfect?

What it boils down to really, then, is whether you can differentiate between the use of the past simple tense and the perfect tenses. What applies in the case of did and have applies as well to all other verbs, so let us expand the scope of this discussion and try to spot which options in the following sentences are the grammatically correct ones:

  • I played/have played/have been playing tennis for the past five years.
  • I didn’t wash/haven’t washed my hands, but it doesn’t matter – you can give me a slice of the cake.
  • What he did/had done was really wonderful.
  • He said he was/had been waiting for a full hour.
  • He claimed that he had done/did it.

(The answers are given below)

Exceptions

Usually, when we are referring to the identity of a person or thing that is the cause of a present situation, we choose the past simple tense rather than the perfect tense to express ourselves:

  • Sorry, I didn’t kick you on purpose. (Rather than, ‘I haven’t kicked you on purpose.’)
  • Who presented you that scarf? (Rather than, ‘Who has presented you that scarf?’)
  • Who asked you to open this box? (Rather than, ‘Who has asked you to open this box?’)

Well, it’s not that did and have can never go together – I hope you did have a good time reading this article!

Answers: have played/have been playing; haven’t washed; did; had been waiting; had done


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