The present perfect nightmare

I was talking to an English person about the fact that a student was absent from school that day, and I said: “The student has been absent today”, using the Present Perfect, because – I thought – “today” indicates that the action still has a connection with the present. But she really didn’t understand, until I said “He was absent today” (we were in the afternoon … or evening). What tense do I have to use with “today”, if referring to past actions? Thank you very much. Patrizia

Technically, your English friend is right: “He was absent today.” Even if the DAY itself is still in progress, the SCHOOL DAY (the period to which you refer) is now over. If, on the other hand, the school day is still in progress, then it would probably be better to say “He’s absent today.” If you say, “He has been absent today,” it suggests that he has been absent some of the time, but present at other times. You can, of course, use the present perfect when talking about today, but when speaking in more generic terms, as in a question: for example, “Have you brushed your teeth today?” (but please note that here we are talking about the day in general, not the school day, which is now over).
We understand that the differences between the simple past and the present perfect can be a nightmare for Italians, but at the same time we are also rather surprised that the English person you were talking to couldn’t be a little more open-minded in trying to understand what you were trying to say! 

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