Level: intermediate

We use perfect aspect to look back from a specific time and talk about things up to that time or about things that are important at that time.

We use the present perfect to look back from the present:

I have always enjoyed working in Italy. [and I still do]
She has left home, so she cannot answer the phone.

We use the past perfect to look back from a time in the past:

It was 2006. I had enjoyed working in Italy for the past five years.
She had left home, so she could not answer the phone.

We use will with the perfect to look back from a time in the future:

By next year I will have worked in Italy for 15 years.
She will have left home by 8.30, so she will not be able to answer the phone.

Present perfect

We use the present perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

They've been married for nearly 50 years.
She has lived in Liverpool all her life.

  • when we are talking about our experience up to the present:

I've seen that film before.
I've played the guitar ever since I was a teenager.
He has written three books and he is working on another one.

  • for something that happened in the past but is important in the present:

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

We normally use the present perfect continuous to emphasise that something is still continuing in the present:

It's been raining for hours.
I'm tired out. I've been working all day.

Past perfect

We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a later time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly 50 years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn't met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later 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 started in the past and continued 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.

Modals with the perfect

We use will with the perfect to show that something will be complete at or before 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:

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 the perfect when we are looking back from a point in time. 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.

or 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 mobile phone. She could have left a message.

Perfect aspect 1

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Perfect aspect 2

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Perfect aspect 3

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Comments

Hello sir, I have a doubt in the following sentence.
She told me that the dam has broken so water is entering forcibly.
Or
She told me that the dam has been broken so water is entering forcibly.
As per my understanding the former seems correct and if were to use 'been' then an adverbial of time should be used , like ' She told me that the dam has been broken since (morning/yesterday) so water is entering forcibly.

Hello amrita_enakshi,

It's not necessary to use an adverbial of time here, though it's certainly possible. 'break' is an ergative verb, so the first version of the sentence is more common (though the second is also possible).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot Peter for comprehensive answer...

Hello Team!
What Tense is more correct in the following example?
Imagine situation: I stand before group of people whom I am going to take on some excursion,and I want them understand that it will be conducted in a way different from anything they have seen before ,so I tell them :
1. Well guys,do you want to take part in excursion you have never been before on ?
2. Do you want to take part in excursion you never was on in the past?
Or both options are possible in this context?,or it depends on what I want emphasize?

Hello Slava B,

You would use the present perfect here as it refers to all of the listeners' lives up to the present moment. However, we would use a different phrase:

Well guys,do you want to take part in an excursion like none you've ever experienced / like none you've ever seen / unlike any you've ever experienced / unlike any you've ever seen?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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,

We have a page just on the topic of Present Perfect Simple and Continuous. This video might also be useful for you. If you have any specific questions, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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