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 punnyawardena,

The answer to your question is that the form of the adjective and the past participle is the same, and so it can be either.  Sometimes the context can make it clear.  For example:

The manager is happy, the office is quiet and the work is finished.

Here, we have [is + adjective] repeated in each clause and so it seems fairly obvious that 'finished' is functioning as an adjective too.

Yes, the project was started by Marie, but it was finished... well, you know the rest.

Here we have a similar kind of repetition, where the speaker used a passive construction in the first part of the sentence and a rhetorical ending which leaves the listener to complete the sentence ('by me').

If we take it as an adjective then there is only one verb ('is') in the sentence.  If we take it as a passive construction then we have an auxiliary verb ('is') and a main verb ('finished').

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi and congratulations for this web! I've got a doubt about the present perfect continuous. In the sentence "I haven't been eating chocolate or sweets" we use present perfect continuous but in the sentence " I am eating less chocolate at the moment. I'm on diet", it would be correct using the present perfect continuous like this: "I've been eating less chocolate at the moment. I'm on diet"? Thank you

Hello RUT1712,

You could say "I've been eating less chocolate because I'm on a diet", but the sentence doesn't work with "at the moment" because "at the moment" refers to the immediate present - the meaning is a bit different from the similar word in Spanish. Another possibility would be to use a different adverbial, e.g. "I've been eating less chocolate these days. I'm on a diet."

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
this is past perfect. i just want to ask why they use been in past perfect.. is this right with been ?

Hello afzalskynet,

We form the past perfect with [had + the past participle]. The past participle of the verb 'be' is 'been'. Therefore, to make the past perfect of 'be' we use [had + been].

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr Peter M, I want to learn and improve my english but I dont have this type of environment where I do conversation with my friends if you guide my for this. It will be very helpful for me..

Thanks

Hello afzalskynet,

You are welcome to use the site in any way you wish, and working through the grammar pages is good if you find that useful, but I'd like to suggest a different method, but you should do what is best for you. I'd suggest you try the Elementary Podcasts. Start with series 1 episode 1. First, listen to the one or two sections of the podcast, and then read the transcript (under Instructions & downloads) as you listen. Then do the exercises that correspond to the sections you've listened to.

You should choose some useful phrases from what you've listened to and imitate their pronunciation - repeat those words and phrases many times. Pronounce whole phrases, not just words, because the pronunciation of words in English changes according to context. Repeat these phrases until they're relatively easy to say.

Then try to use these phrases in your daily life. You can speak them to yourself, as if you were speaking to another person, and this will help you learn to use them correctly and to remember them. When you find some grammar that you want to learn more about, consult the grammar pages, but I think you will learn more in general by using the Elementary Podcasts.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk Sir,
Thank you so much for your reply. I will do as you suggest me .

Sir i want to know the uses of 'have had' and 'had had' in detail with their examples...? Thanx in advance.....

Hello Vishesh,

'Have had' is an example of the present perfect and 'had had' is an example of the past perfect. There are a lot of examples of these forms on this page and in other pages in our grammar section, along with explanations of their use.

Best wishes,

Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

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