Present Perfect Tenses Made Easy
When do you use the Past Simple ("I did") and the Present Perfect ("I have done")?
The tense you choose depends on how you consider the event. Is it finished, or is there still a connection to the present?
If you use the Past Simple ("I did"), you consider the event or events as finished and in the past. This tense is often used with a time reference: last year, last week, in 1991, this morning (if it's now the afternoon) and so on.
With the Present Perfect ("I have done"), there is a connection to the present.
For example, "I have lived here for five years." (I still live here.)
Uses of the Present Perfect
1. When the past affects the present
"I've lost my wallet."
This means that you have lost your wallet (sometime in the past, but we don't know when), but what is really important is that you don't have it now, at the time of speaking.
If instead, you say "I lost my wallet", people understand that you lost it, but not that it affects the present. They expect you to tell them about the time that you lost the wallet.
We use the Present Perfect tense to show that something has a result or a connection to now. This means that it's used to give news.
"The Euro slips!"
"The Euro has slipped against the pound again."
"My sister has had a baby." (announcing news)
Your experiences make you the person you are now. We don't use dates and times to give information on what makes you this person.
"I've been to New Zealand." (I know something about New Zealand.)
We often ask questions about people's experiences with ever. For example, "Have you ever been white-water rafting?"
3. States or activities that started in the past, which have continued up to now and will probably continue into the future.
"I have worked here for five years."
"I have lived here since 1994."
Use since to give the date that an activity or state started and use for to give the period of time the activity or state has lasted.
4. Recent past
"Have you finished yet?"
"I've already written the report." (Here it is.)
In these type of examples, we often use yet, already still, just and recently.
Note: American English uses the Past Simple instead of the Present Perfect in these examples. For instance, "Did you eat yet?"
Using both tenses in a conversation
"Have you travelled much?"
"Yes, I've been to the USA."
"Oh really? When did you go?"
The first question and the reply concern a person's experience, so they use the Present Perfect. But the second question asks for more information about the experience. Because it refers to a past time (when the person went to the USA), the Past Simple is used.
The conversation could continue:
"Oh really? When did you go?"
"Two years ago. I visited a friend in California, but I only stayed a week."
"Did you like it?"
"Yes, it was a fantastic trip."
How to use the Present Perfect Continuous.
1. Temporary situations
Like the Present Continuous and Past Continuous, the Present Perfect Continuous is used to talk about activities or states that are temporary, rather than permanent.
"I have been the Marketing Manager for five years." (This is my job.)
"I've been working on a new customer database." (This is a temporary project.)
2. Unfinished situations
"I've been writing letters all morning." (I still haven't finished them.)
"This morning I've written three letters." (They are all finished.)
3. Repeated and continuous actions
"No wonder you're not hungry. You've been eating sweets for the last hour." (One sweet after another.)
Present Perfect Quiz
Level: Pre-intermediate and above
- Use the Present Perfect to talk about something that happened in the past (but without giving a time reference) which has an impact on the present. ''I've lost my car keys'' = I can't drive my car now.
- When you refer to a specific time in the past (e.g. if you ask a question with ''when'') use the Past Simple (not the Present Perfect) tense.
- Use the Present Perfect to talk about an event or state that started in the past and continues to now. (She started work two years ago and still works here = She has worked here for two years.)
- They got married ten years ago and are still married now = an event / state that started in the past and continues to the present.
- We can't use the Present Perfect Continuous (have been knowing) with state verbs.
- Sometimes both the Present Perfect Simple and the Present Perfect Continuous are possible. But if we want to stress the continuity or length of an action, we tend to use the Present Perfect Continuous (except for state verbs). In this example, we are stressing the fact that she has studied really hard all week - perhaps without a break.
- Use the Present Perfect Continuous for temporary events that continue up til now. (Normally he doesn't work on special projects.)
- Use the Present Perfect Continuous to show that an event / state isn't finished. (''I've been reading...'' = not finished, while ''I've read...'' = finished.)
- Don't use the Present Perfect Continuous tense with numbers. Instead, use the Present Perfect Simple. (I have corrected twenty tests = correct.)
- We also use the Present Perfect Continuous to talk about repeated events that continue up to the present. So if you say ''she has been breaking her leg'', you mean that she keeps breaking her leg - maybe because she loves pain! Instead, say ''she has broken her leg'' (which means that she has broken it once - not many times.)
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There is a question every English grammar focused website seems to avoid:"What about using the Present Perfect Tense for events resulting in the future?"I asked this question on an English language forum, but the answer was far from satisfying. And not because I wanted a different one, but due to the fact that no-one there has so far addressed my concerns.If you would be so kind ... isn't "I've broken my leg, so I won't come to your graduation party" an example of Present Perfect Simple for FUTURE, not present results? If not - why? If so - why can't I find a simple confirmation of it anywhere on the Internet or in grammar books (even in C.McCarthy's "Cambridge Grammar of English")?
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We can use a present state / condition to give a reason why something won't happen in the future. For example, you can make a prediction (that you won't be able to attend an event) due to an existing reason (the fact that you have broken your leg). But remember: you're still using the Present Perfect to talk about the present result (broken leg) of a past event (at some point you had an accident, etc). The fact that you can't do something in the future is incidental to the use of the Present Perfect. (Note: This is my explanation as an English teacher - I'm not a grammarian!)
Thank you, Clare! So, it's a kind of mental shortcut, if I understand the term correctly? We know, by the use of the tense, that a person is experiencing an effect of a past event and it's mutually assumed that they don't really need to say it in order to speak about future events somehow connected with the present situation? Hmm. Makes sense. If I still have questions, I hope you don't mind me asking them. Cheers!
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