Past perfect

Do you know how to use phrases like They'd finished the project by March or Had you finished work when I called?

Look at these examples to see how the past perfect is used.

He couldn't make a sandwich because he'd forgotten to buy bread.
The hotel was full, so I was glad that we'd booked in advance.
My new job wasn't exactly what I’d expected.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Time up to a point in the past

We use the past perfect simple (had + past participle) to talk about time up to a certain point in the past.

She'd published her first poem by the time she was eight. 
We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain.
Had the parcel arrived when you called yesterday?

Past perfect for the earlier of two past actions

We can use the past perfect to show the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action.

When the police arrived, the thief had escaped.

It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. The following sentence has the same meaning.

The thief had escaped when the police arrived.

Note that if there's only a single event, we don't use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

The Romans spoke Latin. (NOT The Romans had spoken Latin.)

Past perfect with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened.

They left before I'd spoken to them.
Sadly, the author died before he'd finished the series.

Adverbs

We often use the adverbs already (= 'before the specified time'), still (= as previously), just (= 'a very short time before the specified time'), ever (= 'at any time before the specified time') or never (= 'at no time before the specified time') with the past perfect. 

I called his office but he'd already left.
It still hadn't rained at the beginning of May.
I went to visit her when she'd just moved to Berlin.
It was the most beautiful photo I'd ever seen.
Had you ever visited London when you moved there?
I'd never met anyone from California before I met Jim.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 2

 

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Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 13:23

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What is the difference between "Are you the one, who was going to come or do we need to expect another" or "Are you the one, who have been going to come or do we need to expect another"?

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:52

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Why a simple present tense in the direct speech, becomes a past tense in the indirect speech (eg. Direct - He said to me "She goes to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she went to shop) Whereas the past tense in direct speech becomes past perfect in the indirect speech? (eg. Direct - He said to me "She went to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she had gone to the shop) Is there any difference? Regards, kingson

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:46

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Dear Peter, Can I say "My friend got married married to a girl who had already been working here" (If the girl is still working the office currently) Regards kingson

Submitted by Englishlearner123 on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 19:58

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Hello Kirk. Thank you the explanation was extremely clear. But I am confused a little about the next statement: I am wondering why the past perfect continuous is used here instead of the past continuous. "-I knew a man who tried to cheat in an exam by writing all the answers on the sole of his shoes. -Did he pass? -No. It had been raining, so the ink had washed off. " Is it possible to use both perfect and perfect continuous tenses here and why? Sorry for disturbing you. Thanks in advance

Hello Englishlearner123

Yes, that sentence is perfectly natural and correct. In this case, the continuous form is describing the background situation (which is a common usage of the continuous aspect) and the simple form is clarifying the relative sequence of events.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Mon, 01/07/2019 - 20:14

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Dear Sir, I have seen the following question and answer in a spoken English book. Kindly tell me whether the answer of the question is correct. As far as I know "should have" is used as an advice. For example "You should have gone there". It is used in past situations. But in the following answer "should have" is used in a future situation. How is it possible sir?. So can I say now "today evening I should have left this place" (suppose now the time is 10 'o clock in the morning). Que:Will you have passed tenth class examination by the next year? Ans:Yes, I should have passed it by that time. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 02/07/2019 - 06:53

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

We're happy to help you, but please remember two important things: 1) we ask that you try to ask your question on a relevant page and 2) we don't promise to explain grammar from other sources.

It's easy to find a page on modal verbs or modals with 'have', for example.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Coffin Dodger on Mon, 01/07/2019 - 17:21

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Hello, I'm ever sorry to bother, but I got confused a little. Let's Imagine that yesterday I went to a club and I'm telling my buddie a story. A) " Listen, from the momemt I had entered, she had not taken her eyes off of me. But then, suddenly, she got up and approached me. " B) " From the moment I had moved to London, I hadn't had a friend. I was alone then. "

Hello Coffin Dodger

You can use the past perfect like that. People often use the past simple instead of the past perfect when that is possible. That is the case here, i.e. you could use the past simple in place of the past perfect in all of those verbs.

If you had a different questions, please let us know.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 29/06/2019 - 04:31

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Thanks a lot Kirk Sir for your clarification.

Submitted by Garry301 on Fri, 28/06/2019 - 18:31

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My query is this Sir, I have come across this only sentence, 'It was the first time they had met/ met.' which tense to use, had met or met, only?

Hello Garry301

Both are possible, but if I had to choose one, I'd say 'had met'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Fri, 28/06/2019 - 16:31

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Dear Sir, I would like to know which of the following sentences is grammattically correct. Can we use "since" in simple past tense as in the first sentence. Enlighten me on this. 1.He wanted to be an actor ever since he was a teenager. 2.He has wanted to be an actor ever since he was a teenager. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 28/06/2019 - 16:52

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello again Aniyanmon

Does he still want to be an actor now, i.e. at the time you say this sentence? If so, only 2 is correct.

I'd suggest avoiding the past simple in the main clause of a sentence that has a 'since' clause, as it's usually not correct. If you were speaking about a person who no longer wants to be an actor, but did want to be one at one point in his life, then I'd suggest something like 'He wanted to be an actor from his teenage years until he finished university' (for example).

You might be interested in reading through the 'Since' page in the Cambridge Dictionary's Grammar section.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 17:59

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Dear Sir, I would like to ask one question to you. "I have been ill for some time now". Does it mean that "I have not been ill for some days now". My doubt is whether "some time" and "some days" have the same meaning. Enlighten me on this. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 18:56

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

'some time' is quite a vague expression -- it could mean for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or even longer. The context, including the person who says it, would in theory help you understand how long.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zhao on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 06:25

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Dear Sir May i ask you to correct if i am wrong. From my opinion, the "perfect" tense essentially would deliver the meaning of unfinished state, or in a certain unfinished period. Based on different context, can I express as followings Case 1: Context: I used to enjoy apple, but gradually did not like it after some years(not certain), so eventually, i do not like it now. Express: I ate apples, which i had enjoyed since i was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Case 2 Context: Apple is my favorite fruit always. Express: 1. I ate apples, which I have enjoyed since I was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Or even use the simple present tense to express "Apple is my favorite food" as a habit 2. I ate apples, which I enjoy since i was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Thx in advanced for your comment
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 07:04

In reply to by Zhao

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Hello Zhao

I'd suggest you take a look at our Perfect aspect page, where the meaning of the perfect aspect in general is explained and there are detailed explanations of both the present perfect and past perfect.

Your first two sentences are grammatically correct, but in the third one it's not correct to say 'enjoy' (in the present simple tense) with the time expression 'since'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 20/06/2019 - 04:02

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Dear Sir, I would like to know which of the following expressions exactly say I have become a fan of boxer Mr.Tyson Fury after his impressive win over Mr.Schwarz (happened four days ago). Earlier I didn't like him. I have been a fan of Tyson Fury. I am a fan of Tyson Fury. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 20/06/2019 - 07:31

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

Neither one clearly expresses what you explain. I would probably just say what you said in your explanation, but you could also say something like 'I am now a fan of Tyson Fury' or 'I have become a fan after that fight'.

Hope that helps.

Best wishes

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Tue, 18/06/2019 - 16:11

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Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.I have been able to speak English. 2.I have been able to study well. Actually what do the above sentences mean? Can I speak English now? Could I study well?. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 19/06/2019 - 06:16

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

It's difficult to say without at least knowing the context, but, for example, 1 could be something an English student said. For example, imagine one of my Spanish students went to study in the UK and I visited him there after he'd been there a few weeks. He might say something like 1 to me to refer to his time in the UK.

Knowing exactly what 2 means is also context dependent. Maybe someone who lives in a noisy house full of people would say this. Or it could be someone who's been ill and didn't expect to be able to concentrate. In either case, they are speaking about a period of time that began sometime in the past and which has just finished or is still continuing at the moment of speaking.

You can see more examples of this on our Present perfect page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hank on Thu, 13/06/2019 - 17:58

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Dear sir, I would like to know if these sentences are correct or not. Initially, he had suffered from arthritis for 3 days. A month later, his symptoms had not improved. Today, he is still in pain. Thank you sir.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 14/06/2019 - 07:17

In reply to by Hank

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Hello Hank,

Although it's hard to be sure without knowing the full context, I would suggest the following:

Initially, he suffered from arthritis for 3 days. A month later, his symptoms had not improved. Today, he is still in pain.

The first sentence is simply a statement about a finished past time so past simple is required. We use past perfect when we are looking back from a later (past) date, as in the second sentence where we are looking back from 'a month later' to the period before.

You can read more about the past perfect on these pages:

Talking about the past

Past perfect

Perfect aspect

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sharma Harry on Thu, 06/06/2019 - 15:46

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Dear Sir, I am confused regarding the grammar part of following sentence, please correct it: Barack Obama had taught for twelve years in Chicago University; even he had not known that one day he would have been president of the USA. OR Barack Obama had taught for twelve years in Chicago University; even he did not have known that he would have been president of the USA.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 07/06/2019 - 07:43

In reply to by Sharma Harry

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Hello Sharma Harry, Neither sentence looks fully correct to me, though it is hard to say without knowing the context in which it appears and without knowing the speaker's intention. You could say the following: > Barack Obama had taught for twelve years at Chicago University; even he did not know that he would one day be president of the USA. However, as I said, I would need to know the full context to be sure. It may not be appropriate to use the past perfect (had taught), for example. This depends on the context. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 25/05/2019 - 11:07

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Dear sir, She injured her shoulder playing tennis. She injured her shoulder while playing tennis. I hurt my back lifting that box. I hurt my back while lifting that box. I saw the above four sentences in a grammar book. I am a non native speaker, according to me the above sentences only with "while" make sense. Kindly enlighten me.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 25/05/2019 - 16:46

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon They are all correct. The sentences without 'while' have what's called a participle clause. You can read more about them on https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/participle-clauses. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 18/05/2019 - 11:33

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Can we use a present tense with a past perfect? e.g: "He records what had happened in ancient times." Please give me an answer. Thank you.
Hello kingsonselvaraj, That sentence is not correct as the past perfect needs a second past time for reference. This can be implied by the context rather than stated explicitly, but it is necessary. Without this, we simply use the past tense (simple or continuous): > He records what happened in ancient times ~ It is possible to have a present tense with the past perfect, but only if there is a second past tense for reference. For example: > I know what you had done - incorrect without any other past time reference in the context > I know what you had done before she arrived - correct ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sun, 12/05/2019 - 07:26

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Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.The building has been completed now for 5 years. 2. His mother has been cancer free now for 5 years. What I could understand from the above sentences is "that building was built 5 years ago" and "five years ago she had cancer. Am I right?. Enlighten me on this.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 12/05/2019 - 13:06

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon Yes, that is correct (with respect to both sentences). All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by stew on Fri, 03/05/2019 - 07:42

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Hi! Are both of these sentences accepted in British English (both formal and informal)? If not, which of them is accepted? I had eaten before you came. I ate before you came.
Hi stew, Both sentences are grammatically possible. The first sentence ('had eaten') would be used as part of a narrative. Imagine the speaker is talking to a friend about an earlier time when the friend came to visit. For example: A: Remember last weekend when I came to see you? I offered you a slice of pizza and you didn't want it. Why not? B: Because I had eaten before you came. ~ The second sentence ('ate') would be used in other situations. Imagine this time that A arrives with a pizza: A: Hi there. I've got a pizza. Do you want a piece? B: No thanks, I ate before you came. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by AminulIslam. on Sat, 27/04/2019 - 17:01

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Dear sir M peter I have some confusion about using time conjunction -before and after. which one is correct and why? 1.He will come after she goes. 2.He will come after she has gone. would you please mention all uses of before and after as a conjunction. my last question is.. Before can be used in future perfect? please give some examples.
Hello AminulIslam. Please do not post comments more than once! We generally answer one comment per user per day. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 17:08

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Dear sir, I would like to know the exact difference in the meaning of the following sentences. Actually what difference that "get" and "is" make in the following sentences. 1.He gets infected with viral infection. 2.He is infected with viral infection. Thanking you in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 06:41

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon 'gets' speaks about a process, i.e. the process by which he becomes infected, whereas 'is' speaks about a state, i.e. his condition at a particular moment in time. Please note it's unusual to use the present simple with 'get' to speak about a specific person at a specific time. You could say 'People often get infected due to inadequate hygiene' (which speaks about a general process) but to speak about a specific person, you'd need to say either 'He got infected due to inadequate hygiene' or 'He is likely to get infected' or 'He may get infected'. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RAVI DESAI on Tue, 23/04/2019 - 14:35

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I have one query regarding the past perfect tense usage. Here is a passage in which I want to talk about notes written in a library book by previous borrower. Check the passage and let me know whether I have used past perfect correctly or not. (here at the end of this sentence should I put a question mark ?? ) "It usually happens that while reading a book you come across a new friend. This friend is the one whom you may never meet in person. He is the person who had borrowed this book a long time ago and written notes in the book you are presently reading."
Hello RAVI DESAI, The past perfect in your text is fine. It describes an action before another action in the past which is relevant to the later action. However, the other action should be past simple (wrote) rather than a past participle (written). It would be fine to have both verbs in the past simple. There are some other issues with articles, in the text. However, LearnEnglish is a site for language explanation, not proof reading or text correction. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 15:06

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Sir, sorry to say you are not approving my comments. but why? I am eager to learn English so make comment on this site. For kind information I am not a native speaker.
Hello AminulIslam. We check all comments before they are published, and we check them two or three times most days. This means you might have to wait several hours before your comments appear on our site. I have not published the comments that you posted multiple times. Please be patient and please only post your comments one time. We also generally answer only one question per user per day, so please also keep that in mind. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 14:58

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Which one is correct? Her sister told me that..... a.she had done the assignment the previous day. b.she had done the assignment . c. she did the task yesterday.
Hello AminulIslam. If I had to choose one answer, I'd probably choose a, but all three of those answers could be correct. It depends on what you want to say and on the context. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 13/04/2019 - 04:55

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Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.She is to see the movie. 2.She is to have seen the movie. 3.She was to see the movie. 4.She was to have seen the movie. Thanking you in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 14/04/2019 - 07:40

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon, I'm afraid it's not possible for us to answer questions like this. We're always happy to provide explanations of the material on our pages, or to explain particular points or rules of English, to answer this question we would need to write detailed explanations of multiple sentences, showing how different contexts change the meanings of each example. In other words, we would need to produce something like a lesson for you in the comments section. Please understand that we have many thousands of users on the site and deal with many comments every day. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sun, 31/03/2019 - 15:45

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Dear Sir, Kindly tell me what changes that "is" and "has been" makes in the following sentences. Please explain it. 1 According to McMillan,  the most common cause of death is car accidents. 2. According to McMillan, the most common cause of death has been car accidents. Thanks a lot in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 31/03/2019 - 18:26

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon 'is' is in the present simple tense; 'has been' is in the present perfect (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-tense). 1 refers to a situation in general, as determined by the context. 2 refers to a more specific time period, from some moment in the past until the present. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team