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Perhaps you’ve heard that “practice makes perfect”? That’s not quite the type of “perfect” we mean here. Rather, the definition for “perfect” in this context is “complete”.

So the present “perfect” tense is the “present complete” tense. We use it to talk about an event started and completed at an unspecified time in the past.  Often, we use present perfect to express the present consequences of a past event. We’ll offer more detail on those and a few more opportunities to use present perfect tense below. 

 

To Form the Present Perfect Tense

To form the present perfect tense, you use has or have and the past participle of the verb being used.

In the case of third person singular pronouns such as he, she, or it, we use has.

When you use the pronouns I and you, have is used.

Have is also used with the plural pronouns we or they.

To create a question with the present perfect tense, switch the sentence position of the words has or have and the pronoun.

To create the negative, insert the appropriate negative article between has or have and the past participle.

Statement  Question Negative
I have been to France.  Have I been to France? I have not been to France. 
You have been to France. Have you been to France? You have not been to France. 
She has been to France. Has she been to France? She has not been to France.
He has been to France. Has he been to France? He has not been to France. 
They have been to France. Have they been to France? They have not been to France. 
We have been to France.  Have we been to France? We have not been to France. 

More About Past Participles

The past participle of a word is typically formed by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the end of a base word. Words like jump, walk, breathe, and dream would become jumped, walked, breathed, and dreamt. 

“Why Am I Using a Past Participle in the Present Perfect Tense?”

English can be so confusing! However, if you think through the answer, it kind of makes sense. We use it because the present perfect continuous talks about things that are complete in the present, all the “action” has really already taken place. If you’re still confused, don’t blame us! We didn’t create the language, we just use it! (*wink*)

When to Use the Present Perfect Tense

So, we know we use this tense for events and situations that were completed at an undefined time in the past, but there are lots of specific occurrences in which this would be applied.

One thing in particular, however, tends to confuse people. The concept of “unspecified time” means that you cannot use a specific time with this tense. Words like once, never, many times, ever, before, so far, etc… are usable because they are vague generalizations used for “a time before now”. 


Here are more details about when you would use the present perfect tense.

Experiences

You can describe general experiences that you’ve had using present perfect. You wouldn’t use this tense to describe a specific situation, though, only experiences that can be generalized. For example, you could say, “I have milked many goats. 

Examples

I have been to England. 

You have never been to the moon. 

She has seen that movie eight times. 

Have we ever met her? 

No, we have not met her before. 

Changes Over Time

The present perfect tense is often used to talk about change or changes that happen over time. No specific time is referred to. Instead, it’s an expression of a vague time during which change has occurred.

Examples

Your Spanish has improved since you moved to Spain. 

You have grown a lot since I last saw you. 

She has become interested in art history. 

Has Mexican food become popular here? 

There have been more thefts since the last time I was in town. 

 

Incomplete Actions

We also use present perfect to describe actions that are currently incomplete but are expected to be finished. By using the present perfect tense to describe the action, you are suggesting that you are waiting for it to be completed.

Examples

I have not finished the article yet. 

She hasn’t achieved fluency in English, but is able to speak very well. 

Has he arrived yet? 

He has not arrived yet. 

The car has not stopped. 

 

Accomplishments

The present perfect tense is often used to discuss previous accomplishments. This could be the accomplishments of an individual, a society, or humanity in general. Again, a specific time is not mentioned, only general times previous to now. 

Examples 

Man has walked on the moon. 

She has never smoked a cigarette. 

Have you learned how to read? 

They have reduced the amount of crime in the city. 

I have earned my Bachelor’s degree. 

 

Multiple Actions

You can also use present perfect tense to talk about a series of actions that occurred in the past at different times. Typically, we use it for one particular action over a series of times or instances. When you use present perfect to talk about this, it suggests that the action being discussed may not be complete and could be continued in the future or present. 

Examples

The city has been attacked eight times. 

I have had nine quizzes so far this year. 

He has dated eight different people. 

I have eaten many cookies already. 

You have had ten cats so far.

Duration From The Past Until Now (With Non-Continuous Verbs)

In some cases, the present perfect tense can be used with non-continuous verbs or non-continuous uses of mixed verbs to show that an event has been happening up until now.

Although this form is usually only used with non-continuous and non-continuous uses of mixed verbs, there are exceptions to this rule. The words live, study, work, and teach are sometimes used, even though they are neither non-continuous or non-continuous uses of mixed verbs. 

Examples

I have been sick for a week. 

She has been in England for three years. 

He has loved you since he was young. 

Have you been in France all this time? 

I have been in Japan for two months.

Narrowing Down the “Unspecified Time”

It is possible and acceptable to narrow the time frame so that only a small range of time is being discussed.

An example of this would be when saying, “I have been to the movies twice” versus “I have been to the movies twice in the last year.” Notice that the past action is still not happening at a specific time, rather, a slightly more specific range of time.

Originally, the speaker had been to the movies twice some time since birth and before the ‘“present moment”. When the qualifier  “in the last year” is added, it provides more information without changing the verb tense. The action has still occurred at an unspecified time in the past.  This can also be performed with qualifying terms like in the last month, so far, until now, in the last week, this week, etc.

However, be warned that there is a difference between expressions like “in the last year” and “last year”. Last year” is too specific. It suggests that an action happened one year ago. “In the last year” is unspecific. It merely suggests that an action happened sometime within the time frame of a year. 

Examples

You have grown in the last year. 

I have been to the movies five times this week. 

She has smoked two cigarettes so far. 

He has had three children up until now. 

She has been offered two jobs in the last month. 

 

Examples from Famous Quotes

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again. — Andre Gide

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. — Albert Einstein.

 

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