Present Perfect Tense

present perfect structure

The Present Perfect tense is a rather important tense in English, but it gives speakers of some languages a difficult time. That is because it uses concepts or ideas that do not exist in those languages. In fact, the structure of the Present Perfect is very simple. The problems come with the use of the tense. In addition, there are some differences in usage between British and American English.

In this lesson we look at the structure and use of the Present Perfect tense, as well as the use of for and since, followed by a quiz to check your understanding.

The Present Perfect tense is really a very interesting tense, and a very useful one. Try not to translate the Present Perfect into your language. Just try to accept the concepts of this tense and learn to "think" Present Perfect! You will soon learn to like the Present Perfect tense!

How do we make the Present Perfect tense?

The structure of the Present Perfect is:

subject + auxiliary have + main verb
conjugated in Present Simple  
have, has past participle

The auxiliary verb (have) is conjugated in the Present Simple: have, has

The main verb is invariable in past participle form: -ed (or irregular)

For negative sentences we insert not between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the auxiliary verb.

Look at these example sentences with the Present Perfect tense:

  subject auxiliary verb   main verb  
+ I have   seen ET.
+ You have   eaten mine.
- She has not been to Rome.
- We have not played football.
? Have you   finished?  
? Have they   done it?

Contraction with Present Perfect

When we use the Present Perfect in speaking, we often contract the subject and auxiliary verb. We also sometimes do this in informal writing.

I have I've
You have You've
He has
She has
It has
John has
The car has
The car's
We have We've
They have They've

In negative sentences, we may contract the auxiliary verb and "not":

He's or he's??? Be careful! The 's contraction is used for the auxiliary verbs have and be. For example, "It's eaten" can mean:
  • It has eaten. (Present Perfect tense, active voice)
  • It is eaten. (Present Simple tense, passive voice)
It is usually clear from the context.
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How do we use the Present Perfect tense?

This tense is called the Present Perfect tense. There is always a connection with the past and with the present.

We use the Present Perfect to talk about:

Present Perfect for experience

We often use the Present Perfect to talk about experience from the past. We are not interested in when you did something. We only want to know if you did it:

I have seen an alien.
He has lived in Bangkok.
Have you been there?
We have never eaten caviar.
past present future
The action or state was in the past. In my head, I have a memory now.  
Connection with past: the event was in the past
Connection with present: in my head, now, I have a memory of the event; I know something about the event; I have experience of it

Present Perfect for change

We also use the Present Perfect to talk about a change, or new information:

I have bought a car.
past present future
- +  
Last week I didn't have a car. Now I have a car.  
John has broken his leg.
past present future
+ -  
Yesterday John had a good leg. Now he has a bad leg.  
Has the price gone up?
past present future
+ -  
Was the price $1.50 yesterday? Is the price $1.70 today?  
The police have arrested the killer.
past present future
- +  
Yesterday the killer was free. Now he is in prison.  
Connection with past: the past is the opposite of the present
Connection with present: the present is the opposite of the past
Americans do use the Present Perfect but less than British speakers. Americans often use the Past Simple tense instead. An American might say "Did you have lunch?", where a British person would say "Have you had lunch?"

Present Perfect for continuing situation

We often use the Present Perfect to talk about a continuing situation. This is a state that started in the past and continues in the present (and will probably continue into the future). This is a situation (not an action). We usually use for or since with this structure.

I have worked here since June.
He has been ill for 2 days.
How long have you known Tara (for)?
past present future
The situation started in the past. It continues up to now. (It will probably continue into the future.)
Connection with past: the situation started in the past.
Connection with present: the situation continues in the present.

For and Since with Present Perfect tense

We often use for and since with perfect tenses:

for since
a period of time a point in past time
- - - - - - - - - - - - - • - - - - - - - - - -
20 minutes 6.15pm
three days Monday
6 months January
4 years 1994
2 centuries 1800
a long time I left school
ever the beginning of time
etc etc

Look at these example sentences using for and since with the Present Perfect tense:

For can be used with all tenses. Since is usually used with perfect tenses only.

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