You are here

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


Perfect aspect 2


Perfect aspect 3




Hello Samin,

While these sentences are suggesting that the listener do something, technically speaking, they are not imperative verb forms.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team


I am confused about how to use stative verbs with Present Perfect Continuous tense. Please let me know if the following makes sense?

1st: Since how long have you had that flu?
2nd: Since how long have you been having that flu?
3rd: Since how long have you been treating that flu?

'Since how long' implies a time period that began in the past and continued till the present. This means that the correct sentence must use Present Perfect Continuous Tense.
However, the 2nd sentence is incorrect because 'having' is a stative verb which cannot be used with a continuous form of tense.
3rd sentence is correct because 'treating' is a dynamic verb which can be used with Present Perfect Continuous Tense.
1st is also correct.

Am I right?

Hello ER,

You clearly understand these verb forms in general, but there are a few small points that aren't completely correct. First of all, 'since how long' sounds a little strange to me. I'd recommend saying just 'how long', which communicates the idea you want.

Second, in a question like 'How long have you had the flu?' (or the other two questions), it's the verb form (present perfect simple or present perfect continuous) that communicates the idea of a time period beginning in the past that has a connection with the present. (You could use 'how long' to speak only about the past, e.g. 'How long did the First World War last?')

Third, it's not impossible for a stative verb to be used in a continuous form -- it's just unusual. We can still use a continuous form to communicate one of its common meanings, e.g. to describe something changing or developing: 'I'm loving the new TV series'. In this example, the TV series is still not complete and my use of the continuous could be showing this, or it could be showing that I'm surprised that I'm liking it (it's something new for me to enjoy this kind of programme). But most of the time we'd just say 'I love the new TV series'.

So you are right in thinking that sentence 2 above isn't correct, at least in most situations. It could be correct in a very specific context, but in general we wouldn't use it.

Sentences 1 and 3 are correct.

I hope this helps you understand these finer points.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team


The tips is really useful. Thanks.

Thank you Jonathan, it's a great help for me
So how about this one..
By the you left this school, you would have been a student here for five years - what tense is this

Hello Samin,

'would have been' is sometimes called the conditional perfect tense. Our grammar doesn't use this term, but you can read more about this form on our 'would' and 'would have', Modals with 'have' and Conditionals 2 pages.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there
I want to know about this sentence pls help, what type of tense catagory does it belong
By the time you leave this school ,you would have been a student here for give years - past perfect with modal verb / simple past

Hi Samin,

I think some corrections are needed. It should be:

- By the time you leave this school, you WILL have been a student here for FIVE years.

This is a future perfect structure ('will have been'). In the first part of the sentence, 'leave' is in the present simple, but 'by the time' means it refers to a future event.

Have a look at this page for more explanation and examples.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Which is grammatically correct

I had spent 50,000 thousands rupees in the last two years on my domestic flights
I spent 50,000 thousands rupees in the last two years on my domestic flights

Hello Satinder,

Whether the past simple or the past perfect is better will depend upon the context in which the sentences are used. Without knowing the broader context I can only say that both sentences are grammatically possible.



The LearnEnglish Team