The present perfect is one of the trickiest tenses to learn. In this post I’m going to explain ten key ideas which will help you to understand this tense.
1. Why is it called the present perfect?
It’s called the present perfect because it is formed with the present tense of have.
I have lived in Zurich for 20 years.
She has just gone out.
2. Is it a present tense or a past tense?
The clue is in the name. The present perfect is a present tense. However, many people think that it is a past tense. This is because it is often used to talk about things that have happened in the past. It actually connects the past to the present, referring to past events which have a connection to now.
3. How is it formed?
It is formed by using auxiliary have + past participle (the verb form in the third column).
4. How many aspects does it have?
Like other tenses, there are two aspects – simple and continuous.
I have sold my car. (present perfect simple)
They have been waiting for hours (present perfect continuous)
5. Which words are associated with it?
Words including ‘yet’, ‘ever’, ‘already’ and ‘just’ are often used with the present perfect. However, it’s important to remember that these words can also be used with other tenses.
6. When is the present perfect used?
This is the most difficult part of learning about the present perfect. We use the present perfect to connect the past and the present. Look at the following examples.
I’ve lost my phone. (I lost it in the past, connection to now = it is still lost)
I’ve been to Australia twice. (I went there in the past, connection to now = I can tell you about my experience)
Have you done your homework? (I did it in the past, connection to now = there is no more homework to do)
I've lived in Zurich for 20 years. (The period started in the past and continues to now, connection to now = I still live in Zurich)
7. When isn’t the present perfect used?
Don’t use it with past time expressions such as ‘yesterday’, ‘on Thursday’ or ‘last Christmas’. Use the past simple instead.
I did my homework on Thursday
Last Christmas I gave you ….
8. How can I practice the present perfect?
One tip is to buy a good grammar book and do the exercises. You can also practice asking and answering present perfect questions such as the following.
Have you ever...?
How long have you...?
What have you done recently?
9. What other things should I do?
It’s really important that you start to notice how the present perfect is used in real life. One good way of doing this is to read newspaper articles and search for all the examples of present perfect simple and present perfect continuous. You can do this by searching for the word ‘have’ or ‘has’.
10. If I see the word ‘have’, does this mean that the present perfect is being used?
No. The verb ‘have’ can be a main verb or an auxiliary verb. Look at the following examples:
She has three kittens. (Have = main verb, tense = present simple)
We have to go home now (Have to = main verb, tense = present simple)
We have found the mistake. (Have = auxiliary, tense = present perfect)
They have been stolen (Have = auxiliary, tense = present perfect passive)
The present perfect is definitely a tricky tense to use. These ten tips will help you understand the key ideas of the tense. If you want more help and practice, why don't you sign up for English lessons?
Alternatively, read more of my posts about English grammar here.