We use the present perfect to show that something has continued up to the present

They’ve been married for nearly fifty years.
She has lived in Liverpool all her life.

… or is important in the present:

I’ve lost my keys. I can’t get into the house.
Teresa isn’t at home. I think she has gone shopping.

We use the present perfect continuous to show that something has been continuing up to the present:

It’s been raining for hours.
We’ve been waiting here since six o’clock this morning.

We use the past perfect to show that something continued up to a time in the past:

When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

... or was important at that time in the past:

I couldn’t get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn’t at home. She had gone shopping.

We use the past perfect continuous to show that something had been continuing up to a time in the past or was important at that time in the past:

Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.
He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.

We use will with the perfect to show that something will be complete at some time in the future:

In a few years they will have discovered a cure for the common cold.
I can come out tonight. I'll have finished my homework by then.

We use would with the perfect to refer to something that did not happen in the past but would have happened if the conditions had been right:

If you had asked me I would have helped you.
I would have helped you, but you didn’t ask me.
You didn’t ask me or I would have helped you.

We use other modals with perfective aspect when we are looking back from a point in time when something might have happened, should have happened or would have happened.

The point of time may be in the future:

We’ll meet again next week. We might have finished the work by then.
I will phone at six o’clock. He should have got home by then.

the present:

It’s getting late. They should have arrived by now.
He’s still not here. He must have missed his train.

or the past:

I wasn’t feeling well. I must have eaten something bad.
I checked my cell phone. She could have left a message.

 


 

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Comments

Hi all,

I would like to know how to use present perfect and continuous when I speak. It is not easy in the sentences. Thanks

Hello Victorine,

It's hard for me to explain this in a brief comment. Fortunately, we have a page on the topic of present perfect simple and continuous which should clarify the area for you. You can find that page here. If you have any specific questions after looking at this and trying the exercises then we'll be happy to try to help.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

could you explain the differences between "Could have" and "Must have" and how to use them?

from the context " I checked my cell phone. She could have left a message". Meaning that she did or didn't leave a message?

Thanks

Hello CK,

'could have' means that it is possible she left a message and 'must have' means that we suppose she left a message. In other words, 'could have' indicates much less certainty than 'must have'. See the 'Deductions and conclusions' section of this Cambridge Dictionary page for more on this use of 'must'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Kirk : what is the right meaning of : by then
in the context : I can come out tonight. I'll have finished my homework by then.
Best wishes

Hello medmomo,

'by' means 'at or before' in this context and 'then' refers to 'tonight'. This person is saying that she can go out at night because she will finish her homework before the night.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi ... you say that we use the present perfect to show that something has continued up to the present. So, in this sentence "They’ve been married for nearly fifty years", is there a meaning that they are now divorced or one of them is dead? Thanks.

Hello Ogeday,

The present perfect is used in this example to describe an unfinished past, so when we say 'They've been married for nearly fifty years' we mean that their marriage began in the past (fifty years ago) and is still continuing at the moment of speaking. In other words, they are still married.

If the marriage was over then we would not use the present perfect but rather say 'They were married for fifty years' or 'They had been married for fifty years', depending on the context.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter. If it is unfinished and if we are expecting that it will go on sometime in the future, can we use present perfect continuous tense here ... "They've been marrying for nearly fifty years"?

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