Present perfect tense

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The present perfect is generally the first perfect tense that students learn after the simple tenses and the present and past continuous.  This tense can be confusing at first, but here is an explanation that you may understand better.

First, the formation of the present perfect is with the auxiliary verb have followed by the past participle of the main verb.  The auxiliary have is often contracted to ‘ve and has to ‘sPast participles usually end in –ed, but the irregular ones have to be memorized.  This takes time, but you will learn them all eventually.  Study the irregular ones well because they are the most often used.

I have known her for a long time.  (I’ve known her for a long time.)
We have visited them several times.  (We’ve visited them several times.)
She has been a wonderful house guest.  (She’s been a wonderful house guest.)

To form the negative, put not (n’t) after the auxiliary verb (have or has).

They haven’t seen each other for weeks.
She hasn’t come back from the store yet.

To form a question, put the auxiliary verb (have or has) before the subject.

Have you finished washing the car?
Has she found a new apartment?

Now that you know how to form the present perfect, let’s look at how to use it.  There are 3 uses.

The first use:

The present perfect is used for a one-time action in the past but with no time stated for that action.  In other words, if you don’t know when the action happened, then use the present perfect.  However, if you do know the time of the action, use the simple past.

I’ve seen that movie.  (no time stated)
I saw that movie last weekend.  (last weekend is the time)

They have gone home.  (no time stated)
They went home an hour ago.  (an hour ago is the time)

He’s fallen off his bicycle.  (no time stated)
He fell off his bicycle on his way home.  (on his way home is the time)

Have you forgotten your keys?  (no time stated)
Did you forget your keys this morning?  (this morning is the time)

However, if the time stated is still ongoing (still happening) then use the present perfect.

I’ve had three cups of coffee this morning.  (It’s still this morning)
I had three cups of coffee this morning.  (It’s not this morning any longer)
This year our team has won every game.  (It’s still this year)
Last year our team won every game.  (It’s not last year any longer)
He’s been sick this week.  (It’s still this week)
He was sick last week.  (It’s not last week any longer)

This use of the present perfect often has the words before and lately, which are used for one-time past actions with no time.

Haven’t you heard that joke before?
She’s been absent a lot lately.

The present perfect can also be used with the words already, always, just, recently and yet, but these words can also take the simple past informally.

She’s already gotten the letter.  (formal)
She already got the letter.  (informal)

Have you always done the right thing?  (formal)
Did you always do the right thing?  (informal)

We’ve just discovered that we have the wrong address.  (formal)
We just discovered that we have the wrong address.  (informal)

He has recently gone back to Spain for family reasons.  (formal)
He recently went back to Spain for family reasons.  (informal)

They haven’t eaten yet.  (formal)
They didn’t eat yet.  (informal)

The second use:

The present perfect is used for past actions that happened more than once and may happen again.  Often, but not always, the number of times is stated, such as two, three, or four.  There can also be words that are used like numbers, such as:  a couple (2), a lot (20), a few (3), always, ever, many (20), never (0), no (0), often, and several (6).  Most of the time, you will use the present perfect with these words.  However, if the actions are finished and not still ongoing, use the simple past.

I’ve eaten at that restaurant three times.  (and I may eat there again (ongoing))
I ate at that restaurant three times last month. (finished and not ongoing)

I’ve seen that movie a couple of times.  (and I may see it again (ongoing))
I saw that movie a couple of times.  (and I probably won’t see it again (not ongoing))

We’ve sent out a lot of emails.  (and we may send more (ongoing))
We sent out a lot of emails last week.  (finished and not ongoing)

There have been a few robberies in this neighborhood.  (and there may still be more (ongoing))
There were a few robberies in this neighborhood before I moved here.  (There haven’t been any robberies since then (not ongoing))

Theyve always taken their holidays in August.  (and they still are (ongoing))
They always took their holidays in August.   (but they aren’t anymore (not ongoing))

Have you ever gotten his phone number?  (You might still get it (ongoing))
Did you ever get his phone number when you were coworkers?  (You’re not coworkers any longer (not ongoing))

I’ve talked to them many times.  (and I may talk to them again (ongoing)
I talked to them many times when I lived next door. (I don’t live next door anymore (not ongoing))

He’s never seen Vancouver in the winter.  (but he may in the future (ongoing))
He never saw Vancouver in the winter.  (and he probably won’t (not ongoing))

There has been no rain for weeks.  (but there may be rain in the future (ongoing))
There was no rain for weeks last summer.  (finished and not ongoing)

We’ve often gone out to eat.  (and we probably will in the future (ongoing))
We often went out to eat when we lived in San Diego.  (finished and not ongoing)

She has made several bad choices in her life.   (and she may make more (ongoing))
She made several bad choices in her life.  (She’s finished making bad choices (not ongoing))

The third use:

The present perfect is used for an action that started in the past and continues to the present.  In other words, the action is still ongoing.  These words are often used with this use of the present perfect: for, since, so far, to date, and up to now.

They have lived in that house for twenty years.  (and they still live there (ongoing))
She’s taken piano lessons since she was five years old.  (and she still does (ongoing))
So far we’ve made $160 washing cars.  (and we’re still washing cars (ongoing))
To date I’ve seen six of his films.  (and I will continue to watch more (ongoing))
The dogs have been very quiet up to now.  (and they are still quiet (ongoing))

Watch out for the word for, and use the simple past if the action is finished.

She lived in California for ten years.  (She doesn’t live there anymore (not ongoing))
I babysat the neighbor’s daughter for two weeks last summer.  (This happened last summer (not ongoing))

Use these flashcards to help you study the irregular past participles.


When you think you’re ready, do the following exercise.

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© 2013 Ambien Malecot

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