Present Perfect Tense: How and When to Use It

Present perfect tense on a blackboard

In this post, we will look at the present perfect tense. We’ve included examples in every form and several tables for your guidance on this useful tense.

For a full breakdown of verb tenses in every form, check out our main article on verb tenses.

Forming the Present Perfect Tense

Quick Reference Table: The Present Perfect Tense in All forms

 

KEY

V3 → The third form (Past Participle) of an irregular verb

Ved → Past Participle form for regular verbs

Forms Formula
+ Have/Has + Ved/V3

I have worked a lot today.

? Have/Has + subject + Ved/V3

Have you worked a lot?

Have/Has + not + V3

I have not worked a lot yet.

The present perfect tense formula is: have/has + past participle.

The past participle is usually formed by adding -ed or -d to the end of the verb, but there are many irregular verbs in English.

Examples:

  • Regular: He has coached the team since 1998.
  • Regular: Julie has toured the entire nation twice with her band.
  • Irregular: She has broken her arm twice.
  • Irregular: I have led the army into battle many times.
  • Irregular: The robbers have stolen over 16 cars and are still at large.

Negative Form

To put the present perfect tense in a negative form, use this formula: Have/Has + not + the past participle. You’ll also commonly see the contractions haven’t or hasn’t.

Examples:

  • I haven’t been to Spain.
  • I haven’t noticed anything odd going on.
  • She hasn’t said anything about it yet.
  • They haven’t seen the movie before.
  • Carrie hasn’t played a full game yet.

Asking a Question

To ask a question in the present perfect, use the formula: Have/Has + subject + past participle

Examples:

  • Have you seen the movie?
  • Have you met him before?
  • Has he seen the damage yet?
  • Has she owed money for a long time?
  • Have they even sold the property?

When To Apply the Present Perfect Tense

Use the present perfect tense when you want to emphasize the result of an action. Since it’s a present tense, the result should be in the present.

Use #1: Indefinite Time

When describing an action that happened at an indefinite time in the past.

  • I have eaten at this restaurant before.
  • I have been here once.
  • He has hiked on that trail in the past.
  • She hasn’t hiked that trail before.
  • Have you ever seen this band before?

**NOTE: When you specify a time for an action, then the present perfect is not used. Use the simple past instead.**

  • I have organized all of my files. – Correct
  • I have organized all of my files this afternoon. – Incorrect
    • They have cleaned the entire store. – Correct
    • They have cleaned the entire store today. – Incorrect

So, what exactly does it mean when we say an indefinite time? This is a concept that can be confusing to ESL learners. To be honest, it’s even confusing for native speakers.

To understand, let’s break down the situations where you’ll use the present perfect tense with an indefinite time.

Situation 1

When describing an experience.

Meaning, you want to describe something you’ve had the experience of doing without describing the actual event. This is also commonly used in the negative form.

Examples:

  • I’ve never been to a professional baseball game.

That means you’ve never had the experience of going to a professional baseball game. There is no definite time associated with the experience.

  • Joey has tasted ice cream before.

That means Joey has at some point tasted ice cream before. There’s no specific time when the experience happened, but Joey tasted ice cream at some point.

  • She has flown on a plane.
  • They have seen the movie.
  • Todd has visited children in the hospital.

Situation 2

When talking about something that has changed over time.

  • He has become more generous since his mother died.
  • The company has evolved over time.
  • They have grown fond of their new step father.
  • Brittany has improved a lot since we moved her to another department.

Situation 3

When speaking about an accomplishment without a specific time.

  • The lab has discovered many treatments for cancer.
  • Robby has learned how to play the bass guitar.
  • Scientists have developed a new way to fight the virus.
  • They have conquered many obstacles in their fight to save the species.

Situation 4

When describing an action that hasn’t happened, but you expect it to happen. Use negative form in this situation.

  • The train hasn’t arrived yet.
  • It hasn’t stopped raining.
  • He hasn’t finished milking the cows.
  • They haven’t learned how to speak Spanish.

Situation 5

When describing many actions that happened at various times.

  • We’ve taken six tests so far this year.
  • The company has spoken with several technicians, but they can’t find someone who can erase the virus.
  • He’s met with many advisors, but it seems he won’t be able to settle outside of court.
  • We’ve had many problems while building our house.

Please note that in the last example the building of the house is not a finished process. If it is, use the past simple tense.

Situation 6

When using an expression of time.

This situation can be tricky. The present perfect tense is always an expression of an action that happened at an indefinite time.

However, you still can use the present perfect tense when talking about something that happens within a time frame but doesn’t name a specific time. Often, these expressions will follow with indicators like: in the past month, in the past year, this month, up to this point, so far, recently, etc…

**Note** ‘Last’ (month, week, year, etc..) and ‘in the last’ or ‘in the past’ (month, week, year, etc…) have different meanings.

Last year means the year before the current year, and last month means the month before this month. Since, last means you’re talking about a specific time, it requires the simple past tense.

In the last year, means from 365 days ago until that moment. In the last month, means 30/31 days ago up to that moment. So, in the last/past means you’re not talking about a specific time and requires the present perfect tense.

Examples:

  • My car has broken down three times in the past month.
  • We’ve visited my mother in the hospital six times in the past two weeks.
  • I’ve worked for three restaurants in the past year.
  • The company has hired four managers in the past two years.

Use #2: When describing an action that began in the past but continues into the present.

Generally, you’ll use non-continuous verbs in this situation, but there are exceptions.

  • She has been at the office since Monday.
  • I have had a fever since 9pm.
  • He’s loved beer since he was in college.

Using the present perfect tense, you’ll be able to express actions in more effective ways. Keep practicing, and you will be able to master this verb tense.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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