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Present perfect

Level: beginner

The present perfect is formed from the present tense of the verb have and the past participle of a verb.

We use the present perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

They've been married for nearly fifty 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.

We often use the adverb ever to talk about experience up to the present:

My last birthday was the worst day I have ever had.

and we use never for the negative form:

Have you ever met George?
Yes, but I've never met his wife.

Present perfect 1

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Present perfect 2

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  • 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.

Present perfect 3

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Present perfect 4

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have been and have gone

We use have/has been when someone has gone to a place and returned:

A: Where have you been?
B: I've just been out to the supermarket.

A: Have you ever been to San Francisco?
B: No, but I've been to Los Angeles.

But when someone has not returned, we use have/has gone:

A: Where's Maria? I haven't seen her for weeks.
B: She's gone to Paris for a week. She'll be back tomorrow.
 

have been and have gone

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Present perfect with time adverbials 

We often use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to the recent past:

recently just only just

Scientists have recently discovered a new breed of monkey.
We have just got back from our holidays.

or adverbials which include the present:

so far     until now     up to now
ever
(in questions)
yet (in questions and negatives)

Have you ever seen a ghost?
Where have you been up to now?
A: Have you finished your homework yet?
B: No, so far I've only done my history.

After a clause with the present perfect we often use a clause with since to show when something started in the past:

I've worked here since I left school.
I've been watching that programme every week since it started.

Present perfect with time adverbials 1

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Present perfect with time adverbials 2

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Be careful!
We do not use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a finished past time:
yesterday last week/month/year in 2017 when I was younger etc.

I have seen that film yesterday.
We have just bought a new car last week.
When we were children we have been to California.

but we can use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a time which is not yet finished:
today this week/month/year now that I am 18 etc.

Have you seen Helen today?
We have bought a new car this week.

Present perfect and past simple 1

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Present perfect and past simple 2

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Level: intermediate

Present perfect continuous

The present perfect continuous is formed with have/has been and the -ing form of the verb.

We normally use the present perfect continuous to emphasise that something is still continuing in the present:

She has been living in Liverpool all her life.
It's been raining for hours.
I'm tired out. I've been working all day.
They have been staying with us since last week.

We do not normally use the present perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the present perfect simple instead:

I've always been liking liked John.

Present perfect continuous 1

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Present perfect continuous 2

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Present perfect for future

We normally use the present simple to talk about the future in clauses with before, after, until, etc.:

I'll keep looking until I find my book.
We'll begin when everyone arrives.

but we can also use the present perfect:

I'll keep looking until I have found my book.
We'll begin when everyone has arrived.

Comments

Hello sir, Is it possible to use preposition "from" instead of "since" in present perfect structure?

Hi LitteBlueGreat,

Some people might say things like, for example:

  • They have been staying with us from last week.
  • I've worked here from 2018.

The meaning is clear enough, but since would be more commonly used instead of from, and some people might consider it a mistake to use from. I'd definitely use since in these examples. Unlike fromsince has the specific meaning of until the present moment, which supports the the unfinished time period of the present perfect.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks so much for your great explanation.

I take it that words like "for" and "lately" can used with the present perfect tense or the present perfect continuous with two meanings :

[1] for an unfinished action, continuing up to now.
E.g.:
I can't help you now, I've been very busy lately ---> still busy up to now.

[2] for a finished action that has a present connection.
E.g.:

a) (On the phone) I didn't phone you earlier because I've been very busy lately, my boss has been away. --> implying that now, I'm not busy anymore and my boss has already come back.

b) John has stopped smoking for a year. He has lung cancer now because he has been smoking heavily for 20 years before. --> continuous smoking in the past.

c) Obama has an extensive knowledge about America because he has been President for 8 years ---> life experience.

Are all my above descriptions correct?

I would be very grateful if you would help me on this matter.

Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

Yes, right! But about examples 2a, 2b and 2c, I would repeat my recommendation in my first answer - the past simple is better because it's 100% clear that the action is finished. Even if the present perfect can mean the past event with present connection that you intend, this intended meaning may not be obvious to readers/listeners in these sentences (despite being grammatically possible) because the present perfect has other meanings too. The past simple, though, would be unambiguous and that is the tense I would definitely recommend using. I hope that helps :)

We appreciate your interesting questions and we always try to help as much as we can! But if possible, it would be great if questions could be a bit shorter because, as you can see, our answers often get quite long and heavy when they require detailed explanations of things beyond the page content above. Thanks a lot :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
I'd like to ask a favour of you for the following questions :

[1] Can we use the phrase "in the past" with the present perfect tense with the following implications ?

a) He has known many celebrities in the past ---> (life experience)

b) This old building looks horrible. It has been used as a deadly prison in the past ---> (past action with present relevance).

[2] Can we use "for" with the present perfect tense to refer to a completed action in the past with the following implications ?

a) He can fix cars. He has worked at Honda Japan for 20 years and currently is retired in London ---> (life experience)

b) Houses in this real estate often have cracked walls. The land around here has been an area of swamp for 30 years in the past ---> (past action with present relevance).

I would highly appreciate your help on this matter.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hi Melvin,

For sentences 1a and b, some people might do. But I wouldn’t recommend it, because “in the past” (i.e. a past / finished timeframe) conflicts with the present perfect timeframe (i.e. unfinished time, continuing up to the present). The “in the past” phrase is actually redundant here – we can simply say “He has known many celebrities” and “it has been used as a prison” with exactly the same meanings/implications that you mentioned. If we want to add a time reference, it would be more usual to add one that is consistent with the present perfect timeframe, e.g. “in his lifetime”.

For sentences 2a and b, it is possible to imagine some contexts for this, e.g. “He’s an car expert and he’s worked for the biggest car companies. He’s worked at Honda for 20 years and BMW for 10 years.” But in sentences 2a and b, and also in my example, there is potential for confusion, because somebody will read/hear “He has worked at Honda Japan for 20 years” and probably understand it as an unfinished action, continuing into the present – and then hear “currently is retired” and realise that it is actually finished. To avoid confusion, the past simple ("He worked ..." / "The land around here was ...") would be better.

In 1b, 2a and 2b, we can use the past simple with “in the past” and the same meanings/implications that you mentioned. I would recommend that, to avoid confusion. Even if the sentence is in the past simple, it will be understood as explaining the preceding present simple sentence (i.e., relevant to the present).

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I’m having trouble phrasing this sentence, I’d be grateful if somebody could help me:

For the past ten days I’ve pretended to revise, appeared studious in front of my teacher, and slept on my books when the classroom was/is empty.

I’m trying to write it in present perfect. Is the beginning correct, particularly the word “past”, does this make the time duration too specific and therefore an incorrect form of present perfect?

And also, I know, or I think I know, I could write: “and slept on my books when he has left the classroom.” But I’d still like to know if “was” or “is” should be used. My word processor tries to change it to “was” but I think it is “is”. Thank you! Jo.

Hello JoAp,

Your sentence is fine. 'Past' here does not refer to a finished time, but rather to a period of time up to the present:

for the past week = the week (seven days) leading up to today

for the past hour = the hour (sixty minutes) leading up to the current moment

 

You can use either is or was in the last part of the sentence, so both you and your computer are right in this case!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,

Thank you. Do you mind telling me why I can use either “was” or “is”? Also, if I substitute “was/is” for “has become” would that make the sentence more clear? Or would it be unnecessary and just too wordy?

Hi JoAp,

Normally we would use a present form as the present perfect refers to unfinished time. However, here we are talking about particular instances which are individually complete but form a sequence which repeats up to the present (hence, 'whenever').

I don't think 'has become' works here. A simple present or past form is better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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