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

Dear Sir
In this sentence 'It's getting late. They should have arrived by now' what does 'it' refer to. The time we expected them to arrive?
Thanks

Hi seelan65,

The pronoun 'it' in the sentence you ask about is often called a 'dummy subject', because it doesn't really refer to anything. If you follow the link, you can see a fuller explanation of this with a variety of examples.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk.

Dear Mr Kirk
There are some answers confusing me. Could you please make them clear to me. Your answer to fedbet's question ( 9 Sep 15 ) -
Actually, it can be correct to say that, depending on what you mean. If you did indeed finish reading the book, and that it was in the time period beginning last summer and ending now, then it's fine to say it this way. The sentence with the continuous aspect means that you haven't yet finished reading the book.
Later on the page, it was the explanation for the followings.
1). She has lived in Liverpool all her life.
2). She has been living in Liverpool all her life
Explanation - there is no difference in meaning but they differ in emphasis. 1 emphasises the time period whereas 2 emphasises the process of living.

My other question : Is there any other layer of meaning in those sentences.
In sentence 1 - she still lives in Liverpool but she has already planed to move out from the area to somewhere else in the near future.
In sentence 2 - she still live in Liverpool and she has no plan to move out in the near future.
Thanks.

Hi seelan65,

Could you please ask me this question by replying to my response to fedbet? I'm sorry to ask this, but that way the conversation will be much easier to follow both now and in the future. 

Thanks in advance.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir,
can we use the adverb 'everyday' with present perfect continuous ? For example :
Mr. White has been coming to our house everyday.

Hello amrita_enakshi,

Yes, you can use 'every day' with the present perfect continuous. Your sentence is correct, though please note that the word 'everyday' is an adjective and what you need here is the adverbial 'every day'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please tell me the two sentences are correct or not. I would like to know whether one can use past tense with present perfect or not. For e.g. My uncle who went abroad has come back. / My uncle who went abroad had come back. ( past simple and past perfect) Is this
grammatically correct or the first one.
thank you.
Regards
Lal

Hi Lal,

Both of these are correct -- good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Thank you for your reply regarding the three sentences. You said, 'All three are correct.'
Please let me know the following are correct or not.
The hunter who shot an elephant was taken to custody.
The hunter who shot an elephant has been taken to custody.
The hunter who shot an elephant had been taken to custody.
Thank you.
Regards
Lal

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