I have had my first exposure to English at about six years of age (and have used it ever since), and I generally consider myself a native speaker since I use it a lot (even if this is probably sequential bilingualism at work). All would be fine, if it weren't for those pesky grammar mistakes.

My main problem is that I sometimes make mistakes having to do with the past and future tenses. I simply have no feeling of what's right or wrong at times (e.g should I use "have seen" or "had seen" or simply "seen"). I mostly get it right (I guess, because I have some "feeling" of what I should use). I've recently become interested in correcting those mistakes. Will reading a book (or multiple) help? Can I "fix" this somehow?

  • Welcome to Language Learning! I've edited the title of your question to make it slightly clearer what you're asking.
    – fi12
    Jun 23, 2016 at 1:30
  • Is tense handling significantly different between English and your native language (you might mention which one for reference)?
    – user3169
    Jun 23, 2016 at 3:52
  • I wouldn't say tense handling is significantly different in my mother tongue(s). You see, this is where it gets a little bit more complicated, I was raised in Serbian, but German has been there since I can remember, probably since I was 3 to 4 years old. Serbian has four tenses for the past. One is used most commonly, the "perfect", two are for recently finished actions and one is for the distant past (this one is similar to the past perfect in my mind). It also has two tenses for the future, but only one is generally used. I've also noticed similar problems in German.
    – McLinux
    Jun 23, 2016 at 8:05

3 Answers 3


I am writing this answer only because we both have the same problem and I can understand deeply what exactly is bothering you. I am not speaking English very good and for sure I will make some grammatical errors even in this post.

  1. Reading books is one of the best things you could do to improve your English and to gain trust in speaking grammatically correct in this language. This will never be a bad idea. Read English books slowly and you need to understand every sentence you are reading completely before you move on. Be patient with yourself and do not hurry up to finish that book only to congratulate yourself for reading another one.

  2. Do one lesson once a day. You can start Monday with Past Perfect Continuous and use it all day long as often you can. Stick on this tense until you are sure that is completely understood. Do you feel that it wasn't enough? Do it again on Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. You can speak also with your friends so they would also speak only the Past Perfect Continuous tense on Monday. Tuesday will be the Present Continuous tense, Wednesday will be the Present Perfect tense, etc. Take a look here.

There are definitely many more solutions to fix your problem and for some inspiration, I would recommend reading this interesting post.


These distinctions seem so clear to me when I speak, but are so hard to explain (when I've tried)!

I was moved to respond because your very question exhibits the difficulty you've described. I'm not sure how to fix it "in general" but I can offer how I felt as a native speaker.

I knew you were not a native speaker at "I have had my first". Since you are referring to a specific point in the past, "I had" is expected. The only time I'd expect "I have had my first" is if the speaker is expecting a series. For example "I have had my first (of 10) dance lesson."

The most I can say is that the Present Perfect refers to the CURRENT STATE of the subject, whereas the PAST refers to, well, the past event.

If you want to describe yourself as a person whose PRESENT STATE includes a certain past experience, then you can say "I have had exposure to English since age six". But since you say "first", it's clear you're referring to a past an event, not yourself. So "I had my first exposure".

A simpler example is:

I have been to China. (I'm currently a person whose set of experiences includes this experience)

I went to China. (Refers to the past event)

I hope that helps at least a little!

  • 1
    Welcome to Language Learning!
    – fi12
    Jun 28, 2016 at 14:43

Great question! I also struggled with this, probably still am struggling just don't care much anymore...

The difference between "have done" and "did" can be subtle. The complete tense "have seen" or "had seen" often emphasize (as the name suggests) the completion of the event. In some cases, it feels like it's longer time ago than past tense would indicate. For example:

"I have seen a bear." and "I saw a bear."

In some other cases, they don't really mean different things, maybe (very) slight tone change. For example:

"I have read that book." and "I read that book."

"There has been a war in this town." and "There was a war in this town."

If you have some sense of when to use which, then it's probably good enough.

  • You're offering a solution to the example the OP provided, but, as I understand it, the question is more general, along the lines of "how to find/fix grammar mistakes in a sequential bilingual situation?"
    – Hatchet
    Jun 25, 2016 at 0:22

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