Present Perfect Tense
DEFINITION OF THE PRESENT PERFECT TENSEThe present perfect is used to indicate a link between the present and the past. The time of the action is before now but not specified, and we are often more interested in the result than in the action itself.
BE CAREFUL! There may be a verb tense in your language with a similar form, but the meaning is probably NOT the same.
THE PRESENT PERFECT IS USED TO DESCRIBE
- An action or situation that started in the past and continues in the present. I have lived in Bristol since 1984 (= and I still do.)
- An action performed during a period that has not yet finished. She has been to the cinema twice this week (= and the week isn’t over yet.)
- A repeated action in an unspecified period between the past and now. We have visited Portugal several times.
- An action that was completed in the very recent past, expressed by ‘just’. I have just finished my work.
- An action when the time is not important. He has read ‘War and Peace’. (= the result of his reading is important)
ACTIONS STARTED IN THE PAST AND CONTINUING IN THE PRESENT
- They haven’t lived here for years.
- She has worked in the bank for five years.
- We have had the same car for ten years.
- Have you played the piano since you were a child?
WHEN THE TIME PERIOD REFERRED TO HAS NOT FINISHED
- I have worked hard this week.
- It has rained a lot this year.
- We haven’t seen her today.
ACTIONS REPEATED IN AN UNSPECIFIED PERIOD BETWEEN THE PAST AND NOW.
- They have seen that film six times
- It has happened several times already.
- She has visited them frequently.
- We have eaten at that restaurant many times.
ACTIONS COMPLETED IN THE VERY RECENT PAST (+JUST)
- Have you just finished work?
- I have just eaten.
- We have just seen her.
- Has he just left?
WHEN THE PRECISE TIME OF THE ACTION IS NOT IMPORTANT OR NOT KNOWN
- Someone has eaten my soup!
- Have you seen ‘Gone with the Wind’?
- She’s studied Japanese, Russian, and English.
USE 1 Unspecified Time Before NowWe use the Present Perfect to say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important. You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with specific time expressions such as: yesterday, one year ago, last week, when I was a child, when I lived in Japan, at that moment, that day, one day, etc. We CAN use the Present Perfect with unspecific expressions such as: ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, etc.
- I have seen that movie twenty times.
- I think I have met him once before.
- There have been many earthquakes in California.
- People have traveled to the Moon.
- People have not traveled to Mars.
- Have you read the book yet?
- Nobody has ever climbed that mountain.
- A: Has there ever been a war in the United States? B: Yes, there has been a war in the United States.
How Do You Actually Use the Present Perfect?The concept of “unspecified time” can be very confusing to English learners. It is best to associate Present Perfect with the following topics:
TOPIC 1 ExperienceYou can use the Present Perfect to describe your experience. It is like saying, “I have the experience of…” You can also use this tense to say that you have never had a certain experience. The Present Perfect is NOT used to describe a specific event.
- I have been to France. This sentence means that you have had the experience of being in France. Maybe you have been there once, or several times.
- I have been to France three times. You can add the number of times at the end of the sentence.
- I have never been to France. This sentence means that you have not had the experience of going to France.
- I think I have seen that movie before.
- He has never traveled by train.
- Joan has studied two foreign languages.
- A: Have you ever met him? B: No, I have not met him.
TOPIC 2 Change Over TimeWe often use the Present Perfect to talk about change that has happened over a period of time.
- You have grown since the last time I saw you.
- The government has become more interested in arts education.
- Japanese has become one of the most popular courses at the university since the Asian studies program was established.
- My English has really improved since I moved to Australia.
TOPIC 3 AccomplishmentsWe often use the Present Perfect to list the accomplishments of individuals and humanity. You cannot mention a specific time.
- Man has walked on the Moon.
- Our son has learned how to read.
- Doctors have cured many deadly diseases.
- Scientists have split the atom.
TOPIC 4 An Uncompleted Action You Are ExpectingWe often use the Present Perfect to say that an action which we expected has not happened. Using the Present Perfect suggests that we are still waiting for the action to happen.
- James has not finished his homework yet.
- Susan hasn’t mastered Japanese, but she can communicate.
- Bill has still not arrived.
- The rain hasn’t stopped.
TOPIC 5 Multiple Actions at Different TimesWe also use the Present Perfect to talk about several different actions which have occurred in the past at different times. Present Perfect suggests the process is not complete and more actions are possible.
- The army has attacked that city five times.
- I have had four quizzes and five tests so far this semester.
- We have had many major problems while working on this project.
- She has talked to several specialists about her problem, but nobody knows why she is sick.
Time Expressions with Present PerfectWhen we use the Present Perfect it means that something has happened at some point in our lives before now. Remember, the exact time the action happened is not important. Sometimes, we want to limit the time we are looking in for an experience. We can do this with expressions such as: in the last week, in the last year, this week, this month, so far, up to now, etc.
- Have you been to Mexico in the last year?
- I have seen that movie six times in the last month.
- They have had three tests in the last week.
- She graduated from university less than three years ago. She has worked for three different companies so far.
- My car has broken down three times this week.
NOTICE“Last year” and “in the last year” are very different in meaning. “Last year” means the year before now, and it is considered a specific time which requires Simple Past. “In the last year” means from 365 days ago until now. It is not considered a specific time, so it requires Present Perfect.
- I went to Mexico last year. I went to Mexico in the calendar year before this one.
- I have been to Mexico in the last year. I have been to Mexico at least once at some point between 365 days ago and now.
USE 2 Duration From the Past Until Now (Non-Continuous Verbs)With Non-Continuous Verbs and non-continuous uses of Mixed Verbs, we use the Present Perfect to show that something started in the past and has continued up until now. “For five minutes,” “for two weeks,” and “since Tuesday” are all durations which can be used with the Present Perfect.
Examples:Although the above use of Present Perfect is normally limited to Non-Continuous Verbs and non-continuous uses of Mixed Verbs, the words “live,” “work,” “teach,” and “study” are sometimes used in this way even though they are NOT Non-Continuous Verbs.
- I have had a cold for two weeks.
- She has been in England for six months.
- Mary has loved chocolate since she was a little girl.
ADVERB PLACEMENTThe examples below show the placement for grammar adverbs such as: always, only, never, ever, still, just, etc.
- You have only seen that movie one time.
- Have you only seen that movie one time?
FORMING THE PRESENT PERFECTThe present perfect of any verb is composed of two elements : the appropriate form of the auxiliary verb to have (present tense), plus the past participle of the main verb. The past participle of a regular verb is base+ed, e.g. played, arrived, looked. For irregular verbs, see the Table of irregular verbs in the section called ‘Verbs’.
|Subject||to have||past participle|
|Subject||to have + not||past participle|
|She||has not (hasn’t)||visited.|
|to have||subject||past participle|
|to have + not||subject||past participle|
TO WALK, PRESENT PERFECT
|I have walked||I haven’t walked||Have I walked?|
|You have walked||You haven’t walked.||Have you walked?|
|He, she, it has walked||He, she, hasn’t walked||Has he, she, it walked?|
|We have walked||We haven’t walked||Have we walked?|
|You have walked||You haven’t walked||Have you walked?|
|They have walked||They haven’t walked||Have they walked?|