Perfect aspect

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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Average
Average: 4.2 (32 votes)

Submitted by User_1 on Tue, 30/04/2024 - 13:34

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Hello,
I'm sorry for asking more about it.

If I refer to a negative condition, which form should I use?

"This is the worst reality he has ever lived before"
or
"This is the worst reality he has never lived before"

I keep having doubts. Thank you!

Hello again User_1,

Ever means at any time/in their life/in all of history etc.

Never means the same but in a negative way: not at any time/not in their life/not in all of history etc.

Here, your meaning is clearly the first.

Incidentally, the sentence you gave is not one an English speaker would use. It sounds like a direct translation from another language. I don't know the context, of course, but I suspect a more natural sentence with a similar meaning would be something like 'This is the worst experience he has ever had'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter for your help and explanation.
Unfortunately, it’s really hard to write as an English speaker.

Submitted by User_1 on Wed, 03/04/2024 - 13:50

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Hello, 
I have some doubts about the Present Perfect in the positive sentences with "ever" that means "always".

E.g. Present Perfect about our experience up to the present.

1. "I've never seen that film before, but I have ever thought it is an amazing movie"
2. "I've never seen that film before, but I have always thought it is an amazing movie"

And between these positive sentences:
"I have ever felt this music as a masterpiece"
"I have always felt this music as a masterpiece"
Which is correct?

Can I use "ever" + present perfect in the positive sentences?

Thanks for your help.

 

Hello User_1,

'ever' is a word that has been used in one form or another since Old English was spoken, so it's possible to find examples of it being used in ways that are not at all common any more. For example, if you read Tolkien or watch a film set in the Middle Ages, you might hear it being used with the present perfect to mean 'always'.

For centuries, though, we don't normally use 'ever' with the present perfect to mean 'always'. Instead we use it to mean 'at any time', and normally in questions -- for example, in a question like 'Have you ever seen the Acropolis?', which is a question about an experience at some time in one's life.

There are some cases where 'ever' does have a meaning like 'always', but these are generally not with the present perfect. If you're interested, you can read more about these cases on this BBC page and this Cambridge Dictionary page, but it's a lot of information to digest at once and these forms are not that frequently used.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks Kirk,

In this case: "Have you ever seen the Acropolis?"
What is the correct anwer?
"I have never seen it, but I have always thought I would do it"
instead of "but I have ever thought I would do it"

I have a doubt on the second part of the answer :

"but I have always thought I would do it" is it correct?

Thank you

 

Hello User_1,

There are many ways you could respond, but what you suggest (with 'always', not with 'ever') is correct. 

If I had never seen the Acropolis, I would probably say something like 'No, I've never seen it, but would like to one day' or 'No, but I hope to'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Mon, 29/01/2024 - 21:04

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Hello Peter
I have two questions
for example
He has broken his finger for tow days (mean happened only once and still happened )
He has broken his finger for tow months now he is better (mean happened only once and stop now or before now )

My questions
1- Present perfect with (since and for) does verb mean (happened only once or number of time ) in all cases ?

2- Does the present perfect tense in some cases have the same meaning as the present perfect continuous tense?
Examples
He has been living / working in London for five years (mean happening and still happening )

Now he is in London, He has lived / worked in London for five years (mean happened only once and still happened OR means happening and still happening )

Hi HLH,

It's not correct to say "He has broken his finger for two days". "He has broken his finger" is a single action, happening in one moment when the break first happens. After that moment, you can say "his finger is broken" or "his finger was broken (for two months but now it's better)", but not "He has broken his finger for two days".

About your question 1, it depends on the verb. Dynamic verbs mean the action is repeated many times (e.g. "I've played tennis for years"). Stative verbs mean the action happened once but lasted for some time (e.g. "I've known him for years"; "I've enjoyed drawing since I was little").

About question 2, yes - the meaning can be similar. Both of your examples can mean that he still lives in London now. However, the sentences are not exactly the same. The present perfect continuous emphasises the duration of living there and the fact that he continues to live there now.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan
I have three questions, please answer me
1-Is this correct
Without using (for / since) The verb means happened only once and could be still happened up to the present or could be about our experience up to the present
for example
- He has broken his finger (mean happened only once and still happened up to the present )
- He has broken his finger before (mean happened only once and happened his experience up to the present )

2- our experience up to the present could be The verb means happened in the past and finished in the past OR could be The verb means happened in the past and finished in the present

- He has broken his finger before (mean happened in the past and finished in the past in my life)

this example from British council to talk about our experience up to the present:
- I've played the guitar ever since I was a teenager (mean happened repeated in the past and finished in the present)

3- Is this correct ?
With the present perfect with (for / since) the listener or reader does not know the action will continue into the future or stop in the present

if I mean the action will continue into the future, I must put sentence to show that the action will continue into the future,
but with the present perfect continuous, the listener or reader knows that the action will continue into the future.

examples
- He has lived in London for five years now I will go to My country (mean happened repeated in the past and finished in the present)

- He has lived in London for five years Now he is in London (mean the action will continue into the future )

- He has lived in London for five years ( but Here we do not know and we need to read the context if the verb will continue in the future or not)

- He has been living in London for five years (without the context we know the verb will continue in the future )

Hi HLH,

1. Yes, that's generally true. However, it's less clear with examples like She has visited London many times or He has written three books - is that only one action, or many/three actions?

2. Yes, right. 

3. Yes, I think you've understood this well. However, with the present perfect continuous, we do not actually know for sure whether the action will continue into the future or not. Strictly speaking, the present perfect continuous shows an action that started before the present and continues into the present, so it contains no information about the future (even though the action continuing in the future may be implied by, e.g. the speaker not mentioning anything about the action ending in the present, as you say).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Miiin on Fri, 15/12/2023 - 04:07

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Hello,
I can't clearly understand the sentence " All my friends are getting married. By the end of this year, I'll have been to six weddings!". I can use the future form like this: " by the end of this year, I'll have 6 weddings"
And why we use "to" after "have been"?
Thank you for your help!

Hello Miiin,

In this sentence will have been is actually a form of the verb go. Go has more than one past participle form. You can see it in these examples:

I go to the shop. [present simple]

I went to the shop. [past simple]

I have gone to the shop. [present perfect]

I have been to the shop. [present perfect]

The difference is that have gone means the person has not returned while have been means they have returned. You can use these with the modal verb 'will' to form will have gone (to) and will have been (to), which is the form in your example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Wed, 27/09/2023 - 03:02

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with the following:

"It was 2006. I had enjoyed working in Italy for the past five years."

As far as I understand, it is not clear from this sentence whether he enjoyed working in Italy in 2006 or not. So, first he had enjoyed working in Italy. Then 2006 came. This sentence shows the past before 2006. So, he might have or might have not still enjoyed working there in 2006.

Could you please tell me if it is correct?

Many many thanks for your precious work and immense help and I'm grateful for the answer to this post beforehand!!!

Hello howtosay_,

I agree that it's not completely clear, however with no other context I would probably assume that he also enjoyed working there in 2006. Actually, if that is the intended meaning, then I'd recommend using a present perfect continuous form to show this: 'It was 2006. I'd been enjoying working ...'

Another wrinkle is the phrase 'for the past five years'. This usually includes the present moment at the time of speaking. If you want to separate the past from the present more clearly, I'd recommend using something like 'for the previous five years'.

But even saying 'I had enjoyed working in Italy for the previous five years' doesn't unambiguously show some kind of change. You'd need to use another phrase or words to do that, e.g. 'It was 2006. I'd enjoyed working in Italy until then, but when X happened in January, my feelings changed ...'

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Fri, 14/07/2023 - 07:30

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Hello Teachers,
I don't understand the difference in meaning of these two sentences?
Max is disappeared.
Max has disappeared.
Could you explain it clearly?

Hi jitu_jaga,

Sure, I'll try to help! "Disappear" can be used intransitively or transitively.

The most common usage is intransitive (i.e., it does not take an object). It means to vanish, or to no longer be visible. This is the usage in Max has disappeared.

The transitive usage is less common. As a transitive verb, it takes an object, e.g. The magician disappeared the rabbit. If the object is a person, it strongly implies a criminal act such as murder or kidnapping for the purpose of silencing that person. As a transitive verb, it can be made passive, which is the structure of Max is disappeared.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ZIA KATARINA on Wed, 10/05/2023 - 07:11

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Hello! I am so confused about using "has/have/had been" + verb with -ed like for example, "had been destroyed" and "has been involved." Supposedly, it should be "had been" + verb-ing, right? .and also what I know is that there should be no "been" in present perfect or past perfect. "Been" is for perfect progressive forms only, isn't it? I would like to know the rule about when I should use the "verb -ed" with "has/have/had been" and when it is not.
Examples are here which I am so confused about:
1. They have been married for nearly 50 years.
2. When police arrived at the scene, the evidence had been destroyed.
3. Clarence called me and told me that Rina had been involved in a hit-and-run in Oklahoma City.

Hoping for your response. Thanks so much!

Hello ZIA KATARINA,

'Been' is used in several forms. As you say, it is used to make perfect progressive forms with the -ing form: I've been working all day.

However, 'been' can also be used in other forms:

> present perfect of 'be': I was married (past simple) - I have been married for thirty years [present perfect]. In these examples, 'married' is an adjective; you could use other adjectives instead such as 'happy', 'satisfied', 'depressed' ,'involved' etc.

> perfect passive forms with the third form of the verb: the evidence was destroyed (by the criminals) [past simple passive] - the evidence had been destroyed (by...) [past perfect passive]

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shazdks on Sat, 03/12/2022 - 08:05

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hi sir,, may i use this as my resource for my english grammar presentation ? thank you in advance !

Hello shazdks,

As long as you acknowledge the parts that you took from this page, yes, you can use the explanation to help make your presentation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by magdy on Mon, 28/11/2022 - 07:00

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the last time he played football was ( since\ when ) we were in Aswan.
is it when or since

Hello magdy,

'since' speaks about a time period beginning in the past until the present. 'when' is much more general but talks about time.

In this case, it doesn't make sense to use 'since' because the time period mentioned -- the time we were in Aswan -- is only in the past.

So 'when' is the correct word here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by g-ssan on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 21:13

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Hello sir , can you explain to me if we replace perfect aspect with simple aspect did they still same sentence ?
for example :I have always enjoyed working in Italy
I always enjoy working in Italy .
I `ve seen that film before .
I saw that film before.
I need to know what’s the main difference between both of them and how we recognise them perfectly.

Hello g-ssan,

These sentences don't mean exactly the same thing.

For example, 'I have always enjoyed working in Italy' refers to past situations as well as the present. 'I always enjoy working in Italy' refers to the present; it's true that the word 'always' also suggests the speaker has past experience, but it also refers to the future, so it's not exactly the same as 'I have always enjoyed'.

If you have a look at the other pages in this section, particularly under Present tense and Past tense, you can find explanations of the different meanings these forms have.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Faiaz on Thu, 21/04/2022 - 06:44

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Hey could you help me with these two sentences?are they mean the same ?
I had gone there the previous day
I had been there the previous day

Hello Faiaz,

Both 'been' and 'gone' are past participles of 'go', but there is a difference in meaning:

  • She's been to the shop. [She went; now she's back]
  • She's gone to the shop. [She went; she hasn't returned]

Your example uses the past perfect form but this does not change the difference in meaning other than 'now' being 'then' - i.e. a time before another time in the past. To understand precisely the time reference we would need to know the context in which the sentences were used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MPhayTp on Mon, 02/08/2021 - 02:15

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1) They have kept telling me that I am a fool. Is this the same meaing with " They have been telling me that I am a fool." If not, why?

Hi DaniWeebKage,

The meanings are similar. Both sentences emphasise that this action ('telling me that I am a fool') has been going on or continuing for some time, but the first version uses vocabulary (i.e., the meaning of kept) to show this meaning. The second version uses grammar (i.e. the use of the present perfect continuous) to show this meaning.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

This is interesting topic to discuss. Can you tell me more about the frist version? Where can I look at this usage?

Dear team hello,
Humans (may have played) a significant part in the sudden disappearance of rainforests from Central Africa three thousand years ago, when they started clearing them for opening open lands for agriculture.
Can I use (have played) instead of (may have played) if not why?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The sentence refers to finished past time (...years ago) and so the present perfect is not possible.

Perfect modals, unlike present perfect verb forms, can be used with a finished past time reference:
"She may have been there yesterday."
"She was there yesterday." [not *has been*]

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 07/07/2021 - 15:45

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Hello. Could we use "before + perfect tenses"? For example, are the following sentences correct? Why? 1- Before he has arrived, we will leave. 2- Before he had arrived, we left. 3- Before she has cooked, we will arrive home. 4- Before she has got married, she will be 25. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes! All these sentences are correct. We can use present perfect or past perfect with before to show an action that is/was not done or not completed at the time a second action happened.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jonathan. So what is the difference in meaning between the two sentences in each pair of the following sentences? 1a- Before he has arrived, we will leave. 1b- Before he arrives, we will leave. 2a- Before he had arrived, we left. 2b- Before he arrived, we left. 3a- Before she has cooked, we will arrive home. 3b- Before she cooks, we will arrive home. Thank you so much.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

The a and b versions basically mean the same thing, but the a versions mean more emphatically that the second mentioned action happens before the first mentioned action is completed (not just before it happens). The b versions just mean that the second mentioned action happens before the first mentioned one happens, without any special focus on it being completed or not. 

This difference might be particularly relevant when talking about actions that take some time to complete, e.g. cooking in example 3a/3b. But in many other situations, either version would work.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 16:38

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Hi Jonathan, I just want to confirm whether you have received my queries about the usage of "ever" that I posted on this page in the course of last week because my queries have been missing on this page for a few days and I have not received your answer yet. If you haven't already read my questions, I'll post them again here. I look forward to your reply.

Submitted by alaa.saood on Tue, 25/05/2021 - 08:59

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hello. I was furious when my new computer stopped working. I'd had it for just two weeks! answer: experience up to the present?? Just as they left the railway station, they realised that they'd got on the wrong train. answer: something that happened in the past but is important in the present?? (past perfect)
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 26/05/2021 - 06:56

In reply to by alaa.saood

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Hello alaa.saood,

The first sentence talks about something that started in the past (I got the computer) and continued up to a later time in the past (the computer stopped working). The past perfect form in the second sentence refers to something that happened in the past (getting on the wrong train) and is important at a later time in the past (when they were stuck on the wrong train as it left the station).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 04/04/2021 - 12:41

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Hi great British Council team, I want to ask something because I am very confused. While I was reading English book, I saw this sentence. " I stopped smoking" -Smoking in the sentence is a noun which means in Longman dictionary 'the activity of breathing in tobacco smoke from a cigarette, pipe etc.'? -Or it is a gerund form of the verb 'smoke'? (stop doing something) I am usually confused when I saw the word with '-ing' after a verb. Is it a gerund form of the verb, which is about a pattern, or the noun that ends with -ing. Best wishes. I don't know how I can thank you for your helps.

Hello Nevı,

A gerund is the name we give to a word that is formed from a verb but which functions as a noun. In this case, 'smoking' is a gerund, in other words the noun object of the verb 'stopped'.

Happy to help!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes teacher smoking is a gerund (verb;smoke +ing) , but what about the word 'smoking' in the link. https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/smoking Is it shows the gerund form of a verb smoke+ing? Best wishes.

Hello Nevi,

Yes, although the dictionary does not specify it, it is the gerund of the verb 'smoke'. If you compare other gerunds in the dictionary (e.g. 'swimming'), you'll see it also describes them as nouns. They are nouns when used this way.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team