Grammar

Present Perfect Tense: Get To Know Usage

Want to know about the present perfect tense of verbs? The English Forward team can teach you all about...

Victoria Mac Callum Written by Victoria Mac Callum · 4 min read >
present perfect tense

The present perfect is a verb tense used to indicate a link between the past and present. It is used to show actions done or taken in the past that lead up to the present. The time of the action is before the present but not specified, and we are often more interested in the result than in the actions that have taken place to the present culmination. We use resent perfect tense to describe experiences and changes that have taken place before now.

What are past perfect tense examples?

Before we indulge further we need to understand what present tense is. This is a tense used in grammar to describe a currently ongoing action or that is habitually performed.

In order to understand the present perfect tense in more detail, we will need to first recap on what is the past perfect tense with examples. The tense is used to show that an action occurred once or multiple times before another point in the past. The past perfect is formed when we use had together with a past participle. This means that questions are formed by inverting the subject and adding had while negatives are made by adding not.

  • Statement: You had read the book three times before you attended the book club.
  • Question: Had you read the book many times before you attended the book club?
  • Negative: You had not read the book many times before you attended the book club.

What are the present perfect tense examples?

verb,verbs, main verb, present perfect, present perfect tense, present tense

Unlike present progressive that indicates something that is continuously happening now, the present perfect tense formed using has/have together with the past participle. Questions are indicated by inverting the subject and adding has/have while negatives are made by adding not.

  • Statement: You have read that book three times.
  • Question: Have you read that book many times?
  • Negative: You have not read that book many times.

The present perfect tense is used to describe the following.

  • When an action or situation that begun in the past and continues in the present. For example, I have lived in Africa since 1989 (and I still do.)
  • When an action done during a period that is yet to be completed. For example, He has been to the club six times this month (and the month isn’t over yet.)
  • When an action is repeated in an unspecified period between the past and now. For example, We have visited him in the hospital several times.
  • When a performance was done in the very recent past, with the use of ‘just’. For example,  I have just completed my assignment.
  • When the time an action is done is not important. For example, He has watched ‘Money Heist’. (the result of his watching is more important.)

Actions started in the past and continuing in the present

  • They haven’t gone there for months.
  • He has worked in finance for three years.
  • We have lived in the same area for ten years.
  • Have you played the guitar since you were a freshman?

When the time period referred to is not completed

  • I have worked hard this month.
  • It has rained a lot this month.
  • They haven’t seen him today.

Actions done multiple times in an unspecified period between the past and now

  • We have read that book three times
  • It has happened multiple times already.
  • They have visited him frequently.

Actions completed in the very recent past (use just)

  • Have you just finished writing?
  • have just used the restroom.
  • We have just met them.
  • Has she just called?

When the exact time of the did is not important or not known

  • Someone has taken my bag!
  • Have you read ‘Midnight sun’?
  • He’s studied Latin, English, and German.

What is the present perfect tense?

How do you actually use the present perfect tense?

For some English learners, the concept of “unspecified time” can be something very confusing. The following topics will help you to associate with the present perfect better.

Experience

As a learner, the present perfect can be used to describe an experience. Think of it like saying, “I have the experience of…” This tense can NOT be used to describe a specific event. For example;

  • have been to Africa.

This implies that you have experienced being in Africa. Maybe you have been there just once, or numerous times.

  • have been to Africa four times.

You can also add the number of times you have been to Africa at the end of the sentence.

  • have never been to Africa.

Meaning you have not had the experience of going to Africa.

Change over time

Present perfect tenses can be used to talk about change that has occurred over a period of time. For examples;

  • have lost a lot of weight since the last time we met.
  • The school has become more interested in science education.

Accomplishments

Use the present perfect to often list the accomplishments of individuals. It should be noted that you cannot mention a specific time. For examples;

  • My dog has learned how to sit on command.
  • Our daughter has begun to walk by herself.

Uncompleted actions you are expecting

Use the present perfect to often show that an expected action is yet to happen. This suggests that we are still waiting for the thing to occur. For example;

  • Karen has not finished her dinner yet.
  • Allan hasn’t mastered French, but he can string together a few words.

Multiple actions at different times

Use the present perfect to also show several different actions that have occurred in the past at different times. This suggests that the process is incomplete and more actions might still happen. For example;

  • The attackers have scored five goals against the opposition.
  • John has had four servings so far this evening.

Time expressions with present perfect

Using the present perfect means something that has happened at some point in our past lives before. Kindly note that the exact time in the past it occurred is not important.

If however, we want to limit the time period in which an action occurred in the past, we can use certain expressions such as: on the last day, in the last month, this year, this month, up to now, so far, etc. Below are a few more examples:

  • Have you been to your parents’ home in the last month?
  • I have read that book twice in the last week.
  • We have had four tests in the last month.
  • I have worked for two different organizations so far.
  • My neighbor’s car has broken down a couple of times this week.

Remember, “Last month” and “in the last month” have two very different meanings when it comes to present perfect tense. “Last month” is used to describe the month before now, and it is considered as a specific time which requires simple past tense. On the other hand, “In the last month” means from 30/31 days ago until now. It is not considered a specific time, thus requires present perfect tense. E.g

  • I went to Africa last month.

I went to Africa in the month before this one.

  • I have been to Africa in the last month.
  • I have been to Africa at least once at some point between 30/31 days ago and now.
Written by Victoria Mac Callum
Victoria honed up her English language skills in the Media Industry working at a campus radio station in 2014. Since then, she has upgraded to more demanding roles of English teacher on Preply and course creator. She's also a radio presenter, news anchor, voice-over artist, writer and editor. Profile
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