Saw or Have Seen?

Saw or Have Seen?

These are incredibly complex and mind-numbingly difficult, yet they come naturally to us. (Pretty awe-some, huh?) It's almost as if we were all geniuses! Imagine being an English-as-a-second-language student and trying to learn the difference between “I saw the movie” and “I have seen the movie.” Explaining when to use which may be difficult even as a native speaker, yet we innately choose one over the other in our day-to-day conversations depending on the message we wish to convey. This week’s refresher is different in that too much thinking may lead you astray and that it ends with three thought-provoking bonus questions where there really are no wrong answers:
  1. He told her that she (can, could) drop by any time and he'd be happy to help her.
  2. The mom knew the milk was bad because she (had taken, took) a swig.
  3. A mom watched as her son left the house to walk to school in the morning. If she later found out he had skipped school, she may exclaim, (“I can't believe it. I saw him. He walked to school.” or “I can't believe it. I saw him. He was walking to school.”)
  4. After six months of late nights and early mornings, Jesse decided to take a vacation. You may say, (“Jesse had worked hard, so he decided to take a vacation.” or “Jesse had been working hard, so he decided to take a vacation.”)
It needs to be said that while each of the next three questions exemplifies a slight difference between two similar tenses, neither answer is really wrong. In these questions, we are truly looking at a subtle distinction or reason to use one over the other.
  1. In a casual manner, you may say, “Colleen and Joel (have worked, have been working) here for 2–3 years.”
  2. A guy carrying a gun in one hand and a bag with a big dollar sign in the other runs past you. Seconds later, a police officer comes up and asks if you know anything about a bank robber in the area. You may reply, "Yes, I've seen him." or "Yes, I saw him")
  3. Rebecca has lived in Dublin and New York, and to really drive home this example, we'll say that she really wants to move to Miami when she retires. We may then say, (Rebecca lives in Tampa." or Rebecca is living in Tampa.")

  1. Told and I'd (I would) are both in the past tense, which means it should be could. Hard to spot in a single sentence, a change in tense can be really be difficult to notice when the verbs are sprinkled throughout an entire paragraph.

  2. One of the main aspects of the perfect tense (formed with the have verb plus a past participle verb) is to show an action that happened prior to another action. In this example, it correctly conveys that first she had taken a swig and then she knew the milk was bad.

  3. One of the main aspects of the progressive tense (formed with a be verb plus a verb ending in -ing) is to show an ongoing or incomplete action. In this example, it properly conveys that the mom did not witness her son actually make it to school.

  4. To properly articulate an action in the past prior to another action and the ongoing or incomplete nature of that action, you’ll want to combine the perfect and progressive tenses.

  5. Both have worked and have been working tell us that Joel and Colleen had started at HSN in the past and continued working there up to this point, but there's a sense of achievement with has worked, leaving room for a sense of completion. While the present perfect is not restricted to this usage, it may be better used at the end a career or to highlight an accomplishment vis-à-vis the number of years. Have been working implies the continuity of their time at HSN and may be better used as a common reference to their ongoing roles.

  6. Both saw and have seen show action in the past; however, have seen conveys the closer proximity in time as well as the current relevance. In this example, have seen tells the police officer that you recently saw him and that there may be still time to catch him. Saw him, alone and without any adverbs such as just to convey the meaningfulness, imparts a sense of aloofness in this example.

  7. While both is living and lives convey that Rebecca currently resides in Tampa, lives endows a sense of it being a permanent state while is living conveys the temporal nature of Tampa in relation to the rest of Rebecca’s life.