Any ESL teacher can tell you that one of the most common questions in any English classroom comes with the introduction of the present perfect tense. This topic is difficult for almost every student and takes countless hours of study and even more hours of practice. This grammar lesson is not only for “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced students”… it is for every level!
Read on to learn the present perfect, today! Please note that there are instances below when the present perfect continuous could be used, or even may be more suitable, but that is a blog topic for another day. I believe that students should first learn to use the present perfect before introducing the present perfect continuous.
Present Perfect Form
The form of the present perfect tense is quite simple. We use the auxiliary verb have or has with the past participle, or V3, as I will refer to it in this lesson.
- I/You/We/They + HAVE + V3
- He/She/It + HAS + V3
The first step is to memorize or, at the very least, get a list of the most common verbs, both regular and irregular, to reference. Remember, regular verbs just have an -ed ending; for example:
- talk / talked / talked
- park / parked / parked
Irregular verbs are a little bit harder. To reference a list of the most common irregular verbs in English check this list out.
When we use Present Perfect Tense?
So, now it gets a little more complicated, but if you follow the rules below you will have an easier time using the present perfect correctly.
Present Perfect Use 1: “ACTION OR CONDITION FROM THE PAST UNTIL NOW”
We use the present perfect to show an action or condition that started in the past and continues until the present time.
Signal words can help you identify when to use a particular tense. Some signal words to look (or listen) for with this particular use of the present perfect are:
- How long…?
These can also be used in other ways so be careful!
How long HAVE you STUDIED English?
- I HAVE STUDIED English since 2012.
- I HAVE STUDIED English for 3 years.
How long HAS she BEEN in Miami?
- She HAS BEEN in Miami for three years.
- She HAS BEEN in Miami since 2012.
How long HAS it BEEN since you talked to your friend?
- I HAVEN’T TALKED to my friend since last week.
- I HAVEN’T TALKED to my friend in ages!
(haven’t = have not)
Both answers with for or since are acceptable. We can use for or since to show the duration of time. See below for the difference between since and for.
SINCE VS. FOR
- SINCE points to the BEGINNING of a period of time.
- SINCE is followed by a particular time in the past.
Since….1996 / yesterday / last year / May 1st / last month / Tuesday / I was 10 years old
- FOR shows the LENGTH of a period of time.
- FOR is followed by a period or amount of time.
For….. 2 weeks / 3 days / 30 minutes / 20 years / a long time
A common mistake is omitting the auxiliary verb. I can imagine hearing the following sentence from some of my students: “I have my bike for three years.” This is wrong! You should say, “I have had my bike for three years”
Present Perfect Use 2: “TO TALK ABOUT GENERAL EXPERIENCES”
We use the present perfect to ask about an experience or accomplishment in the past. When we ask questions with the present perfect, the importance is placed on the action; the specific time is not important.
- HAVE you VISITED Key West?
- Yes, I HAVE VISITED Key West (many times).
- HAS she WATCHED The Big Lebowski?
- No, she HASN’T WATCHED The Big Lebowski (yet).
- HAVE they ever BEEN to Australia?
- No, they HAVE never BEEN to Australia.
I have found that a great way of demonstrating the concept of placing the importance on the action and not the time is by telling a student, for example: “I went to China.” Almost always the response is: “When did you go to China?” So, although I never mentioned a time the use of the simple past implies that time was important. I then follow up with another sentence, for example: “I have been to Italy.” Chances are the response will be something like: “What cities did you visit?” or “Did you like Italy?”
A common mistake is using the time at the end of sentence, for example: “I have visited Fort Lauderdale yesterday.” This is wrong! You can’t use a specific past time with the present perfect. Instead say, “I have visited Fort Lauderdale. I went there yesterday.” Or, “I visited Fort Lauderdale yesterday.”
Present Perfect Use 3: “TO TALK ABOUT EXPERIENCES THAT HAPPENED RECENTLY”
We use the present perfect to describe an experience or accomplishment in the “recent past” or a time period that is not finished.
Signal words can help you identify when to use a particular tense. Some signal words to look or listen for with this particular use of the present perfect are:
- This week/month/year
- In the last week/month/year
- Already, Just, Yet
These can also be used in other ways, so be careful!
HAVE you VISITED Key West this year?
- Yes, I HAVE VISITED Key West twice this year.
HAS she already EATEN lunch today?
- Yes, she HAS already EATEN lunch.
HAVE they HAD coffee today?
- No, they HAVE not HAD coffee today.
Where HAVE you BEEN lately? I have not seen you.
- I have HAVE BEEN sick. I HAVE BEEN in bed.
What books HAVE you READ this month?
- I HAVE just FINISHED reading Tales of Ordinary Madness.
Who HAVE you SPOKEN with this week?
- I HAVE SPOKEN with my friend Frank this week.
A common mistake is to say, for example: “I have spoken to him yesterday.” This is wrong! Remember, yesterday is gone and you will never get it back. It’s in the past! You can’t use a past time with the present perfect.
Well, there you go! These are the uses of the present perfect. I have covered most of the major points and uses, but if you still have any questions, just ask! We are here to help you learn English.
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