This sign will help you learn when to use the past simple vs the present perfect:
During a trip to Istanbul I saw this sign outside a café. Ignore the Turkish and focus on the English question: Did you try Latin American coffee?
Is the grammar correct?
Yes? No? Maybe?
First, what is the tense used in this question?
If you said the past simple tense, then you are correct.
The past simple of "try" is "tried." (By the way, tried is irregular. If you need to review how the simple past is formed or irregular verbs, click here for help).
Second, is this the correct tense for this question?
If so, why is it correct? If not, why not?
The answer? The sign does not use the correct verb tense.
The present perfect tense should have been used instead of the past simple tense. The sign should read:
“Have you tried Latin American coffee?”
(Note: If you speak Turkish, you'll understand that it should say "Have you tried our Latin American coffee?" but that's not the important point.)
What's important is to understand why we use the present perfect in this example.
When using the past simple tense, the question would be referring to a specific, completed event in the past.
So the sign is confusing: Why are they asking if I tried Latin American coffee at a specific time? What event are they asking about?
This would be a strange question to have on a sign outside a café.
It would be correct, for example, if they were asking if you tried their Latin American coffee at their Colombian Cultural Day event yesterday. But it doesn't make sense to put that on a sign outside of the café.
What the café actually wanted to ask on their sign was:
At any point in the past (whether last night or last month or two years ago), did you try this type of coffee?
The exact point in time is not important.
What is important is whether or not you have ever tried that type of coffee before.
Did you try it at least one time before?
If not, come on in and try it! It's delicious!
To be even clearer, the café wants to emphasize they have something new.
Latin American coffee isn’t popular in Turkey. They know many people have never tried it before—perhaps people there don't know anyone sells Latin American coffee in Turkey.
So the café wants to highlight this to people walking past the café to get their attention and get them interested in trying something new.
Let’s review the uses of the two tenses:
The present perfect is formed with: the verb have + past participle
Additional points about usage: Ever / never / yet
The present perfect is often used with "ever" and "never" to talk about experiences up to the present.
We also frequently emphasize something that has happened by using already or not happened by using "yet".
On a separate paper, write the correct answer in the blank line, choosing between the past simple or the present perfect.
1. Jen: ___________________ your house yesterday afternoon but unfortunately you weren’t home. (I stopped by / I’ve stopped by)
2. Stan: Sorry, I was out. ___________________ to Paolo’s Café. (I went / I’ve been)
Jen: Oh, I love that place!
3. Stan: ___________________ to Paolo’s before? (Did you go / Have you been)
4. Jen: Yes, ___________________ lunch there two weeks ago. (I’ve eaten / I ate) The food was really delicious and the atmosphere was great. ___________________ their house coffee yet? (Have you tried/ Did you try)
Stan: No, I don’t like regular drip coffee. I only like espresso drinks, like cappuccino or lattes.
5. Jen: Well, if you ___________________ their Latin American coffee you can’t say for sure that you don’t like drip coffee. It’s delicious! (didn’t have / haven’t had)
Stan: Okay, if you think it’s that good I’ll give it a try. Shall we go this afternoon?
Jen: Great idea. It’s a plan, Stan.
(1) I stopped by; (2) I went; (3) Have you been; (4) I ate / Have you tried; (5) haven’t had
So, have you ever tried Latin American coffee? When was the last time you drank coffee? Practice by writing you answer on a piece of paper.
I've also created an infographic on the past simple vs present perfect that is useful to students.