Perfect aspect

Learn about perfect verb forms and do some exercises to practise using them.

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


Perfect aspect 2


Perfect aspect 3



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Submitted by Lal on Mon, 09/07/2018 - 07:58

Hello Sir The two sentences are from your website. She has lived in Liverpool all her life. It has been raining for hours. Please let me know if I write the same like given below. are they correct and give the same meaning. e.g She has been living in Liverpool all her life. It has rained for hours. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

Yes, those sentences are all grammatically correct. Which is better will depend upon your intention and the context in which you use them. The present perfect simple and continuous forms are often both possible and differ not in fact but in emphasis.

We have a page dealing with just this issue. You can find it here.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 10:08

Hello Sir Please tell me whether the following sentence is correct or not. He is walking to and fro. I think he has been drinking. Also these two: He is walking to and fro. I think he had been drinking. He is walking to and fro.( I think) he must have been drinking. Thank you. Regards Lal
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 18:06

In reply to by Lal


Hi Lal,

The first and third ones are correct.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by learning on Sun, 17/06/2018 - 15:02

Hi Teacher, Which is grammatically correct? I've heard them both but am not sure which is correct. Thank you. A. I have never done it until now. B. I had never done it until now.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by takebuchi hiroko on Sun, 03/06/2018 - 14:57

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
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 04/06/2018 - 06:56

In reply to by takebuchi hiroko


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).



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

Submitted by toandue on Sat, 05/05/2018 - 16:14

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Fri, 23/03/2018 - 15:58

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Fri, 23/03/2018 - 08:41

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sanuzoku on Sun, 14/01/2018 - 19:17

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!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 15/01/2018 - 08:33

In reply to by Sanuzoku


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,


The LearnEnglish Team