Struggling to get your head around the present perfect?
The present perfect English is one of the most challenging tenses and non-native speakers of English often confuse it with the simple past.
But being able to use it is essential for communicating in English because this verb construction can express a wide range of meanings.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll explore what the present perfect is, when to use it, and how to form it, along with some tricky points and examples.
What Does The Present Perfect Look Like?
The formula for the present perfect is very simple:
Subject + have/has + past participle
Here are some examples:
- I have eaten breakfast already.
- She has studied for five hours today.
- They haven't travelled to many countries.
- Has she eaten breakfast yet?
- He has studied Spanish for two years.
- We have seen that movie before.
- The team has won three games in a row.
- He has worked at the company for five years.
- They have never been to this restaurant.
- I have just spoken to the manager.
- She has lost her keys again.
The way we form it is not that complicated. What you might find harder, though, is when we use it.
So let’s have a look at this now.
When Do We Use The Present Perfect?
Let me keep things as simple as possible by telling you that every time you’re using the present perfect you’re somehow connecting the past with the present moment.
Look at the following examples and comments that might make this concept clearer:
|He has studied Spanish for two years.||The action of studying Spanish started at some point in the past and is still going on today.|
|She has eaten breakfast already so she’s not hungry.||The action of eating breakfast was completed before now but is still relevant to the present moment because it affects her current state (=she’s not hungry)|
|Sara has never been to Spain in her life.||Did Sara go to Spain in the past? No. Is the fact that she didn’t go to Spain in the past still true in the present? Yes. So there you go. The action of “not going to Spain” started in the past and it’s still true in the present.|
So, as you can see, whenever you use the present perfect, you are creating a connection between something that happened in the past and the current moment.
This is why you can use this verb structure to talk about:
1. Actions That Started In The Past And Continue Up To The Present
- I have lived in this city for ten years. (I still live in the city.)
- They have worked at the company since 2010. (They still work at the company.)
- She has played the guitar since she was ten. (She still plays the guitar.)
- He has been a teacher for 15 years. (He is still a teacher.)
- We have been friends since elementary school. (We are still friends.)
2. Actions That Were Completed In The Past, But Their Effects Are Still Felt In The Present
- I have lost my keys. (I can't find my keys, and I still don't have them.)
- He has broken his leg. (His leg is still broken, and he can't walk.)
- I have eaten too much. (The action of eating too much happened in the past but the effect are still present now because I feel uncomfortable.)
- He’s gone out to buy some milk. (He’s not here now, so the effect of “going out” is relevant to the present moment)
- They’ve missed the train. (The action of missing the train in the past means that now they’re going to be late.)
3. Actions That Occurred At An Unspecified Time In The Past
- She has seen that movie (We don't know when she saw the movie. The action happened at some point in her life which is a period of time that is still connected to the present)
- They have visited France. (Same as the example above. We don't know when they visited France. They went at some point in her life, which is a period of time that is still connected to the present .)
- He has visited London three times.
- They have watched that movie ten times.
4. Actions That Have Just Happened
The present perfect is used to describe an action that has just happened or was completed a few moments ago.
Using the adverb “just” (=a short time ago) we make the action or event relevant to the present moment.
- I have just finished my homework.
- She has just left the room.
- I’ve just received an email from my boss.
- He’s just called me on the phone.
- We’ve just finished our lunch.
So, can you see why we could view the present perfect as a “bridge” that connects the past to the present?
Let’s now have a look at a couple of tricky points about this verb structure: the difference between “been” and “gone” when used in the present perfect, and the difference between “since” and for”.
“Been” vs “Gone” When Using Present Perfect English
There’s a little difference between “been” and “gone” when we use them in the present perfect.
“Been” is used as the past participle of “to be,” and is used in the present perfect to indicate that someone has gone to a place and has now returned.
For example: “He has been to Paris,” means that the speaker has visited Paris in the past and has returned.
“Gone,” on the other hand, is used as the past participle of “to go,” and is used in the present perfect to indicate that someone has gone to a place and is still there in that place.
For example: “She has gone to the store,” means that the person is at the store now and has not returned yet.
Let’s now have a look at “since” and “for”.
Difference Between “Since” And “For”
In the present perfect , both “since” and “for” are two words that you can use to describe the duration of an action or state that started in the past and continues up to the present moment.
But they are used in different ways.
“Since” is used to specify the starting point of the action or state. It tells us when something started so it’s followed by a specific point in time.
- I have been studying French since 2018. (2018 = specific point in time)
- She hasn’t seen her son since last month.
In both of these sentences, “since” is used to indicate the exact moment when the action or state began.
“For”, however, is used to describe the duration of the action or state so it’s followed by a period of time, such as a number of hours, days, weeks, or years.
- He has lived in Paris for three years. (A period of time of three years)
- They have been together for six months.
In both of these sentences, “for” is used to indicate the length of time that the action or state has been going on.
Here are more example sentences that can help you understand the difference:
- I have known him since we were kids.
- She has been sick since last week.
- He has worked at this company since 2010.
- We have been friends since college.
- They have lived in this house since 2018.
- She has been a vegetarian since she was 20.
- He has owned this car since 2015.
- We have been waiting for you since 10 o'clock.
- They have been in a relationship since high school.
- I have been interested in history since I was a child.
- I have known him for 10 years.
- She has been sick for a week.
- He has worked at this company for 11 years.
- We have been friends for a long time.
- They have lived in this house for three years.
- She has been a vegetarian for five years.
- He has owned this car for six months.
- We have known each other for two hours.
- They have been in a relationship for five years.
- I have been interested in history for a long time.
“since” + starting point of an action or state in the past
“for” + duration of an action or state.
Present Perfect English
Well done! You've reached the end of this grammar guide about the present perfect in English!
Now that you have seen multiple examples of this tense, try to notice it while watching a movie, listening to music, reading English books, or conversing in English. In other words, learn it while having fun.
Having fun is one of the best ways to learn any language and you can use the StoryLearning method for that.
Not only is this enjoyable and entertaining, but it’ll make learning and remembering the present perfect much easier than studying pages and pages about it in grammar books.
You’ll notice this verb structure in the context of interesting and gripping short stories in English that will help you learn this “bridge” tense!