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

Hi learning,

Both of these can be correct, but it really depends on the context. We're happy to help you understand these forms if you can provide us with the context or you can also read more about these forms on our present perfect and past perfect pages.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Let's say I never saw snow all my life. Now suddenly it is snowing, and it's the first time I see snow. Do I say A) I have never seen snow until now, or B) I had never seen snow until now.?

Hi learning,

Thanks for giving more context. What first comes to mind is 'This is the first time I've ever seen snow', but you could also say B. In the case of B, the past perfect is referring to the past time before a few moments ago (which also a past time) when you first saw snow.

I wouldn't say A because 'until now' includes the moment of speaking. In the moment of speaking you are clearly seeing snow and yet the verb is negative – so there is a kind of contradiction in the way the sentence is phrased.

I hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team
 

Hello!
I wonder if we could say 'Someone has already played soccer (or any other games)' .
At the same time, can we say 'I'm playing soccer now.'?
In Japanese, concept of 'play' is 'do' rather than 'act'. So it is very confusing for us to use 'play'.
Your reply would be great help for me to understand English better.
Best regards,
Hiroko Takebuchi

Hello Hiroko,

Both of those sentences are grammatically correct.

When we say 'Someone has already played...' we are talking about some time in the past during the person's life. It tells us that the person has the experience of playing.

When we say 'I'm playing soccer now' we are talking about the current moment - the moment of speaking.

 

Play is most often used in English to describe participating in games (e.g. chess, cards, board games, computer games) and sports involving a ball (e.g. football, billiards, rugby). We use other verbs for different activities. For example, for activities which involve movement or travel we use go (e.g. go skiing, go running, go horse riding, go cycling), while for activities which focus on the use of the body we use do (e.g. do karate, do boxing, do yoga).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,
Thank you very much for your clear explanation.
I now understand the meaning of 'play' and when to use.
Very best regards,
Hiroko Takebuchi

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

I once saw the two following sentences in a English grammar book:

1. As our new furniture is going to be delivered on Monday morning I'll have to stay at home to check that it [has not been/was not damaged] during transit.

2. By the time you finish getting ready, we [will have missed] the train!

I thought the actions in square brackets are both mentioned when the spaekers are looking back from future. Then why does only the second sentence use the future perfect form?
Thank you in advanced,
Toan

Hi Toan,

In sentence 1, the time reference for the verb is brackets is the future time when you're staying at home to check the delivery, which is why the present perfect or simple past works there.

In sentence 2, the time reference for the verb is the time that the sentence is spoken, so the future perfect form is correct there.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Have you eaten something today after you have done the worship ?
Now Could I also use past simple for saying the same thing like this (After you did the worship) ?

Hi SonuKumar,

Thanks for clarifying that. 'have eaten' is not really correct because it clearly refers to a past action that is already finished, since other events have occurred after it (the worship, for example). And if you use the past simple for 'eat', then the present perfect doesn't work in the subordinate clause beginning with 'after'. Also, 'do worship' isn't a collocation in standard English.

In other words, I'd recommend 'Did you eat anything after you worshipped?' In English, worship if often referred to by another word. For example, in a Catholic context, one would say 'after mass'. In a Protestant context, it would be 'after church' or 'after the service'. I've seen some reference to 'after prayer' in Muslim contexts. Something like this would be more natural than 'after your worshipped'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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