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

Sir, Thank you for clarifying it. I think, we also can't say or write this sentence using the adverb 'Today', which refers to present, like this- Have you eaten something after you've worshiped today right ?

but Can we write this same sentence using participle like this- after worshipping or having worshiped 'today' have you eaten something ?

Hi SonuKumar,

You can use 'today' and the past simple together if the action is clearly in a finished past time, even if it was earlier today. 'After worshipping today' or 'Having worshipped today' are both grammatically correct, though strange. As I explained in my last comment, since the context implies that the eating is a finished past action, 'have you eaten' is not correct -- you should use the past simple instead. If you omit the part about worship, you could ask 'Have you eaten today?', which is a question about a period of time that hasn't finished yet.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Have you had something today after you have done worship or you did worship at 7:30 p.m, a short while ago or in the evening ?

I think in subordinate clause, we can you use either past simple or present perfect, but if you use present perfect, you can't use one of the adverbs or prepositional phrases given above with past simple right ?

Hello SonuKumar,

Could you please write the sentences or phrases that you are asking about inside speech marks ('like this') or in brackets (like this)? That would help us understand your question better.

Also, when you say 'Have you had something', are you referring to food? I don't quite understand what you mean without the context.

Thanks in advance.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
I have 2 questions to you. Sometimes, I dont really understand the difference between perfective aspect and past tenses. For example, what are the differences between those phrases?

It was the best meal I've had all week - vs - It was the best meal I had all that week.
I've got milk - vs - I got the milk.

Secondly, are there some perfect counterparts for the perfect aspect? Some semantic contribution? For phrases like, for example:

I hope to finish soon.
She is very helpful.

I want to find counterparts for "finish" and "is" in sentences above.

Looking forward to your response, it will help me a lot with understanding of grammar!

Best wishes!

Hello Sanuzoku,

Generally speaking, the perfect forms are used to describe a time period which has not yet finished (present perfect) or a time which had not yet finished at a point in the past (past perfect).

 

For example, the differences between the sentences you quote are as follows:

  1. It was the best meal I've had all week
  2. It was the best meal I had all that week.

In sentence 1 we understand that the week has not finished. You might say this, for example, on Friday and so you can still have more meals before the week finishes. The perfect form here has the meaning of 'up to now' or 'so far'. It describes an unfinished time.

In sentence 2 the week is finished. You are talking about last week, or you are speaking late on Saturday evening (if we say Saturday is the last day of the week) and know that there will be no more meals before the end of the week. The past simple here has the meaning of 'then' or 'in the past'. It describes a time which is finished, over and complete.

 

  1. I've got milk
  2. I got the milk.

The difference here is how we see the actions. In the first sentence we see getting the milk as something which is still part of the present (still part of an unfinished time). You might have just come back from the shop and have the milk in hand, for example. In some way the information is news to the person you are speaking to - perhaps they are making coffee and don't know that there is milk in the fridge, for example.

In the second sentence getting the milk is done and is no longer part of the present. Perhaps you don't want to go to the shop again and are telling them about the milk to show that it is their turn now. Or perhaps you are arguing about who should pay for something else.

It's hard to be certain without knowing the context, but these are some likely uses of each form.

 

I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean in your second question by 'perfect counterparts for the perfect aspect'. Perhaps you can explain or provide an example.

 

The perfect aspect is difficult because there are many languages which have no equivalent, including the Polish language, and because it is usually a choice for the speaker, not something which must be used. There is often a choice of using a perfect form or something else, and our choice depends on what we want to emphasise. This makes it very difficult to grasp through rules. However, the more you read and listen to English then more you will develop a sense of when the perfect form is appropriate, even without explicit rules. After all, native speakers of English (or any other language) do not generally think about grammatical rules when speaking or writing. Instead they rely on a sense of what is appropriate for a given context and intention.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir........
Which is right answer.....
Why should a man have/has unilateral power?
Please explain me.

Hello Gautam,

'have' is the correct form. All verbs following modal auxiliary verbs (in this sentence, 'should') go in the bare infinitive form ('have' is the bare infinitive).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir
In the following sentences:
1. The match is over. They (have been watching/ have watched) it for the whole day.
2. She (has watched / has been watching) T.V. for one hour. But now she is doing her homework.
As per my understanding in both the sentences the progressive option seems correct but none of the actions are continuing till the present. Should it be present perfect then?
Tense order got me confused!

Hello amrita_enakshi,

We use the present perfect when the time period is not complete, or when it continues up to the moment of speaking.

Your first sentence could be formulated with the present perfect if the match has only just finished - in other words if the people in question were watching it right up to the moment of speaking.

The present perfect does not work in the second sentence in my opinion as the time period is clearly in the past. The person described is not starting her homework but is in the process of doing it (as the present continuous is used) and so the watching much have ended earlier. Therefore a past tense would be appropriate here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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