Present perfect

Present perfect

Do you know how to use phrases like She's called every day this week, I've broken my leg and Have you ever been to Scotland? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

He's been to ten different countries.
I haven't seen her today.
My phone's run out of battery. Can I use yours?
Have you ever dyed your hair a different colour?

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Present perfect: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We use the present perfect simple (have or has + past participle) to talk about past actions or states which are still connected to the present.

Unfinished time and states

We often use the present perfect to say what we've done in an unfinished time period, such as today, this week, this year, etc., and with expressions such as so far, until now, before, etc.

They've been on holiday twice this year.
We haven't had a lot of positive feedback so far.
I'm sure I've seen that film before.

We also use it to talk about life experiences, as our life is also an unfinished time period. We often use never in negative sentences and ever in questions.

I've worked for six different companies.
He's never won a gold medal.
Have you ever been to Australia?

We also use the present perfect to talk about unfinished states, especially with for, since and how long.

She's wanted to be a police officer since she was a child.
I haven't known him for very long.
How long have you had that phone?

Finished time and states

If we say when something happened, or we feel that that part of our life is finished, we use the past simple.

We visited Russia for the first time in 1992.
I went to three different primary schools.
Before she retired, she worked in several different countries.

We also use the past simple for finished states.

We knew all our neighbours when we were children.
I didn't like bananas for a really long time. Now I love them!

Past actions with a result in the present

We can use the present perfect to talk about a past action that has a result in the present.

He's broken his leg so he can't go on holiday.
There's been an accident on the main road, so let's take a different route.
They haven't called me, so I don't think they need me today.

Again, if we say when it happened, we use the past simple.

He broke his leg last week so he can't go on holiday.

However, we often use the present perfect with words like just, recently, already, yet and still.

We've recently started going to the gym.
She's already finished season one and now she's watching season two.
Have you checked your emails yet?

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Present perfect: Grammar test 2

Language level

Average: 4.1 (75 votes)

Hello Melvin,

1. I wouldn't say that 'understand' is used mostly in affirmative sentences. As far as I know, there's no particular general pattern disfavouring negative use, though to be honest, I haven't checked a corpus to confirm this. Your sentence b) sounds natural to me. Regarding a), as Peter already pointed out, it sounds unnatural. I'd say the main problem is 'already', since that implies that the understanding happened before this moment in time, which is incongruous with a present perfect time reference, at least within the general conceptual framework Peter explained.

2. That's an interesting question. In fact, 'Have you understood ...?' does sound natural, but I think it would be used in very specific situations, for example, when someone with authority has just given instructions to others with less authority. People also use 'Do you understand ...?' in the same context, and in fact I'd say people tend to use a present simple form more in such situations.

3. That sounds all right if the explanation has just occurred, i.e. right before the time of asking this question. If the explanation happened earlier in time, even just five minutes previous, the present perfect would sound wrong to my ears, at least.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by melvinthio on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 16:44

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Hi Peter,
Thanks so much for your great explanation.
I'm still confused why we can use the word "understand" with the Present Perfect but not "believe" and "know". As we know that these three words indeed belong to the same type of stative verbs (thoughts and opinions) and just like "believe" and "know", the word "understand" also refers to a state rather than an action. So, the three words actually share the same nature, i.e. kind of a mental state.

We could say :
a) Have you already understood what I just explained to you ?

But we couldn't say :
b) Have you already believed what I just told you ? Or
c) Have you already known what I just told you ?

I understood from your previous explanation that we should use the Present Simple (not the Present Perfect) for "believe" and "know" like b) and c), but it would be grammatically correct to use the Present Perfect with "understand" like a).

I'd highly appreciate your detailed explanation in this case.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hello again Melvin,

To my ear your example does not sound very natural. I would say 'Do you understand...' rather than 'Have you already understood...' You could say 'Have you got that?' meaning 'Did you understand it?', which I think shows the difference quite well.

That said, there is a difference between 'believe' and 'understand' as concepts. While we consider (in spite of all evidence to the contrary!) our beliefs to be more or less permanent (just as we consider likes and loves to be permanent) we accept that our understanding changes. Thus we often say something like 'I think I've understood it' or 'If I've understood you correctly...'

As you can see, these are not grammatical issues but rather questions of how we frame certain concepts. They have more to do with social and psychological norms than language rules so I think it's really more a case of picking up the correct usage from exposure via reading, listening etc rather than learning a particular rule. At more advanced levels of language learning there's no substitute for that, I'm afraid!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 14:24

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Could i say Marry is going to get married next week. Have you heard of that
B: Yes, I have. Mark told me yesterday.

Hello Khangvo2812,

I think we would say 'Have you heard?' rather than "have you heard of that', but otherwise the dialogue is fine. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 14:20

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Could you tell me why in this case we use already know not have already known?
I already know that John is going to marry next week?

Hello Khangvo2812,

The sentence describes the speaker's current state of knowledge. Unless it's particularly important to highlight how long we have known it there is no reason to use the present perfect. Of course, in some contexts this may be important:

They're getting married!

I know. Have you only just heard? I've known about it for weeks.

Why didn't you tell me?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Sun, 06/08/2023 - 08:16

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Hi Jonathan,
I'd like to ask a favour of you for my following questions.
[1] I've understood your question, I will reply soon.

(a) Is this sentence is grammatically correct ?
(b) Is it also grammatically correct to ask :
"Have you understood what I just explained to you?"

[2] I still haven't believed his information yet. I need to check it out later.

Is this sentence grammatically correct ?

[3] I've already known that John is getting married next week (incorrect).
Should we change "I've already known that..." to "I know that...", or "I knew that..." ?

I'd be grateful if you would give me your detailed explanation.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hello Melvin,

[1] (a) Generally, it is considered bad style to join independent clauses with commas. You should use a full stop between the sentences or else use a conjunction such as 'and'.

[1] (b) Yes, that's fine.

 

[2] No, the sentence is not correct. Belief is not something we envisage changing, which is why we do not use the verb with progressive aspect (we say 'I believe...' not 'I am believing...'). For the same reason, we would not use 'I haven't believed it yet' as we would not anticipate our belief changing. We would use a verb like 'read', 'seen', 'familiarised myself with' etc.

 

[3] I think 'I already know' is the best option. 'I already knew' would need some time reference to anchor it in the past (Sue told me yesterday but I already knew) as otherwise it would suggest that you knew it in the past but not any more.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Mon, 31/07/2023 - 14:27

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Hello,
Could you check my sensentence for grammar mistake?
Last month, I went online looking for a cleaning service company, after a while I still didn't find any companies that meet my requirements, but I found something that can help me clean my house, it is called X-box cleaning robot.