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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Hello letuananhbk93,

The difference between these present perfect simple and present perfect continuous is a matter of perspective or emphasis. The continuous is often used to express an interest in an action still in progress, or without referring to whether it is finished or not, whereas the simple is often used to express that an action has been finished. The page linked to above gives a fuller explanation with examples.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.. My question is.... 1.What to do had you gone there at his home? 2.To do what had you gone there at his home? 3.Had you gone there at his home to do what? 4.What had you gone to do there at his home? 5.Had you gone there to do what at his home? Which is right??? please, answer me..

Hello Dil Gill,

The least unnatural sentence is number 4.

Please note that LearnEnglish is a site for learners of English and we are happy to answer questions about the material here or, if time allows, about the language in general. However, we don't solve activities from other sites or from language courses, or tasks set as tests or homework activities - these are for you to do!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter for your last explanation. And I have another confusing about " last year" and " in the last year". As we knew, when time clause " last year" in the sentence which means in the past but if " in the last year" we have to use present perfect tense. Even though I have read the difference between them. "Last year" means the year before now, and it is considered a specific time which requires Simple Past. "In the last year" means from 365 days ago until now. It is not considered a specific time, so it requires Present Perfect. But I am still confusing. In my analysing point, there is not a difference at all. " Last year " is also included 365 days as same as " In the last year". Could you please explain clearer. Thank you very much! Anna

Hi Anna,

THe difference is not really about general and specific time, but rather finished and unfinished time. The phrase 'last year' is used when that time is finished and so the past simple is required. The phrase 'in the last year', on the other hand, is used when the period is not finished - in other words, it means 'in the past year up to and including today' - and so the present perfect is needed.

You can think of the difference as similar to the difference between 'yesterday' (a finished time period) and 'today' (an unfinished time period including the present moment).

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi) I have a question about the following sentence: "it has been raining often lately. Autumn came ( or has come??) Could you, please, explain which form is correct? Thank you.

Hi Kuzia,

The most likely is 'has come' as the speaker is probably commenting on a new event (the arrival of autumn). However, 'came' is also possible, depending on the context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Why in present perfect you can say "It´s been raining all day" but not "it has been raining all day" Are there more cases like this one?
hello admin team, i am a student at university and i start my second year in september, i would like to improve my english skills, especially helping with writing my assignment. but i am very concern and worry to face problem with start writing up my assignment. your help appreciate in advance. p.s could you correct this paragraph for me for example how could be written differently more academically. many thanks
Hello, We have a whole section on Academic Writing! http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/writing-purpose/writing-purpose Best wishes, Adam The LearnEnglish Team
In the English translation of Police by Jo Nesbo, the first sentence is something like: It had been cold September. The book is actually full of simple sentences with past perfect that are grammatically correct but do not describe anything that happened before a past action. Will you explain me the rational for using the past perfect instead of preterit?
Hello, It's not really possible to say for sure why a particular verb form is chosen in a sentence without seeing the context. However, my guess would be that in this case, the cold September is described from the point of view of someone looking back at the end of September. These are the two time references. Best wishes, Adam The LearnEnglish Team
Sir i want to know the uses of 'have had' and 'had had' in detail with their examples...? Thanx in advance.....
Hello Vishesh, 'Have had' is an example of the present perfect and 'had had' is an example of the past perfect. There are a lot of examples of these forms on this page and in other pages in our grammar section, along with explanations of their use. Best wishes, Adam The LearnEnglish Team
Hi and congratulations for this web! I've got a doubt about the present perfect continuous. In the sentence "I haven't been eating chocolate or sweets" we use present perfect continuous but in the sentence " I am eating less chocolate at the moment. I'm on diet", it would be correct using the present perfect continuous like this: "I've been eating less chocolate at the moment. I'm on diet"? Thank you

Hello RUT1712,

You could say "I've been eating less chocolate because I'm on a diet", but the sentence doesn't work with "at the moment" because "at the moment" refers to the immediate present - the meaning is a bit different from the similar word in Spanish. Another possibility would be to use a different adverbial, e.g. "I've been eating less chocolate these days. I'm on a diet."

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

while thanking for the great service you do for English learners, please clarify me on the following. 'the work is finished' in this, is the function of past participle 'finished' verbal or adjectival? and is the dominant verb/main verb 'is' or 'finished'? thanks

Hello punnyawardena,

The answer to your question is that the form of the adjective and the past participle is the same, and so it can be either.  Sometimes the context can make it clear.  For example:

The manager is happy, the office is quiet and the work is finished.

Here, we have [is + adjective] repeated in each clause and so it seems fairly obvious that 'finished' is functioning as an adjective too.

Yes, the project was started by Marie, but it was finished... well, you know the rest.

Here we have a similar kind of repetition, where the speaker used a passive construction in the first part of the sentence and a rhetorical ending which leaves the listener to complete the sentence ('by me').

If we take it as an adjective then there is only one verb ('is') in the sentence.  If we take it as a passive construction then we have an auxiliary verb ('is') and a main verb ('finished').

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir which one is correct? i had joined as professor in 2012. Or I joined as professor in 2012.

Hi krriss,

I'm afraid I can't answer that question without knowing the context. I'd suggest you study our pages on the past perfect and past simple (which are the two forms you used here) to learn about the differences about them. Once you've done that, write back with a context for these sentences and let us know which one you think is correct. We'll be happy to confirm or correct what you say!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

PLease I am very confused I see that in some places people use the sentences like this 1. Since 2007 up to now she works as a teacher 2. Since 2007 up to now she has been working as a teacher. Which one is correct ? Thank you very much in advance..
Is it possible and appropriate to use 'since' in a present simple sentence? e. g. Since 2007 he teaches at school. instead of: Since 2007 he has been teaching at school. Are both sentences ok? I've come across sentences similar to the 1st one on English web pages... Which one is rgihtt ?

Hello Source,

As you can see, your questions have been answered.  However, please understand that it can take us some time to answer questions which are posted.  We are a small team here at LearnEnglish and we deal with many comments every day, in addition to maintaining the material on the site and adding new material - and all on a site which is entirely free to use and advertisement-free.  Please be patient after posting a question and we will answer as soon as we are able.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Source,

"Since 2007 he teaches at school" is not grammatically correct in English - the correct version is the second one that you mention. I'm not sure how to explain how sentences like the first one appear on other English web pages - to me, it is completely clear that that sentence is not correct.

since has many meanings, one of which is similar to because. With that meaning, it is possible to use it with the present simple tense, but with the meaning that refers to time, it doesn't work.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there! I was told that when we use modal verbs ( should, would, must etc.) with perfect : It would have been = in this case the perfect is not the persent perfect but perfect infinitive, and it doesn't change in the 3rd person sg. Is that right? Could someone give me a short explanation about this? Thank's in advance :)

Hello Flora,

You are correct that the form in these constructions is not the present perfect but rather the past participle, also called the third form of the verb or the perfective form. (The explanation on the page describes it as 'the perfect', not the 'present perfect').  As you said, tt does not change form with the third person.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sir, 1. The result hasn't yet come. 2. The result hasn't been come yet. (passive) Out of these two, which one is correct? Could we use verbs like come with the subjects that don't have legs (can't come physically)? please explain some more information of such subjects. Thanks & Regards Krishna

Hello Krishna,

Sentence 1 is correct and sentence 2 is not. This is because intransitive verbs (verbs which do not take an object) such as come are not used in the passive. I'd suggest you read the explanations on our active and passive voice page - I think this should clarify this for you.

Yes, come and other verbs can refer to movement in general, not just physical movement, whether by means of legs or any other apparatus.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi.

I don´t understand the diference between past and past perfect.

For example: 'He had worked...'. Why cannot I say 'He worked on....'.

I already read many things about this, but I don´t understand it.

Thanks

Zaida

Hi Zaida,

The past perfect form can only be understood in a context, not as an isolated phrase.  You can say both 'He had worked...' and 'He worked on...'; which is correct will depend upon the context.  Perfect forms are forms which look back on an earlier time, and the past perfect looks back on a time earlier in the past.  For example:

He worked on the report all night. [a time in the past]

He looked tired when I saw him because he had worked on the report all night. [looking back (from when I saw him) on a time earlier in the past (when he did was working)]

You can find more information on talking about the past here.

You can find more information on the past simple here.

You can find more information on the past perfect here.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I find it difficult to differentiate between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous . It says that both are used when talking about something continuing up to the present. For example, what is the difference between:" I have been working here for 3 years" and " I have worked here for 3 years" thanks in advance
Hello zagrus, Often with the verbs "live" and "work" there is no significant difference in meaning between the two verb forms. The continuous form emphasizes the action, and the perfective form emphasizes the completion of the action, but other than that they mean the same thing. I also wanted to recommend our page on the present perfect, which could be helpful as well: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/present-tense/present-perfect Please don't hesitate to ask again if you have any more questions. Best wishes, Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,

It is very easy lesson, however I would like to ask about the difference between has done and has been done?

what is the difference between the following two examples:

1. From day to day, our world has been changed gradually from condition to another.

2. From day to day, our world has changed gradually form condition to another.

thanks

Khaled Aly

Hi Khaled,

The difference you are asking about is explained on our page about the active and passive voices. But to understand the difference between the forms of the verb change in the sentences you mention, I would also recommend that you look at the section on ergative verbs on our page on reflexive and ergative verbs. There you will see that change is an ergative verb, i.e. a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive.

In sentence 2, change is an intransitive verb, whereas in sentence 1 it is a transitive verb in the passive voice. 

Please also note that in standard English, both of your sentences should say from one condition to another at the end. This minor error is not important to understanding the difference between the two sentences, but I wanted to mention it.

If you have any questions about this grammar, please don't hesitate to ask. If you do ask another question, would you please ask it on the active and passive voice page so that other users can benefit from your question as well?

Thanks for your collaboration.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello,
I have a grammar question about verb tenses. I will use an example here:


I have been waiting vs I had waited vs I had been waiting.


What are some definitive grammar rules of when to use these(eg. for a tense such as simple past, it is for an action that happened and ended in the past)?


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question.

i dont understand what is perfective aspect and where we use it can any 1 plz explan me what is perfective aspect in english grammar?

Hello saima khan,

You're on a page full of explanations and examples of the perfective aspect already!  We use perfect forms (past perfect, present perfect, will have etc) to show a connection between one time and another time before it (before a time in the past, before the present etc).  However, it is a complicated part of English grammar, and many languages do not have forms like this.  It's possible that you need to improve your English in other ways before you learn about perfective forms.  It's not possible to do everything at once!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Miss Saima! My name's Ikrema and I'm also from Pakistan. Perfective form is what we call tenses and I'm pretty sure You too, like every Pakistani, have learnt  tenses in school. The Present Perfect Tense, Past Perfect Tense, Future Perfect Tense etc. If you still have problem with that, you may want to consult some grammar book written by our local teachers where every thing's been explained in Urdu. Hope that helps.

                          

i really need help on here please, i check this website everyday to see whether there's a new reply or no but nothing new, anyway, my question is today 

am so confused whether this word (baffle ) is common or used in spoken language or not, or is there alternative idiom people of British use for this expression. 

i really never head from anyone using it. that's what confusing me indeed, thanks so much

 

Hello rihanna!

 

I'm sorry it's taken us a little while to get to your questions, but we're a small and busy team. We get lots of comments every day, and we can't always guarantee a reply!

 

You have actually answered your own question - you say you've never heard anyone using the expression 'baffle'. This will tell you it's not very common! We do use it sometimes, but we also use other expressions - I don't understand being the simplest.

 

Hope that helps!
 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

 

where people on this website have gone? i'm i the only on it or what? i have been commenting, and asking questions but no one responses , 

Hello everybody, i have a little confusion with the usage of ,(regret) this  word basically has two meaning,one is mean sorry that's i think formal maybe not very spoken so the other meaning is to wish you had not done something you did.so my first question is, when can i use( i'm regretted) even though it's past due to the ed in the end.

the second question, when can use ,about,for,to,ing,not, for example

i regret to call him , for calling him , about calling him or to call him

i hope you would understand me because my explanation is quite poor.thanks

Hello everyone, today i'm every exciting and in a quite good -temper for writing English. myself i never fed up with learning new words and also i do  feel so sad whenever  the day passes without learning new words.

So some people have been saying to speak and understanding more important than writing and reading but the reality nothing is insignificant .

if you can't read you can't learn more ,if you can't write you can response to learn how to speak that means  everything is overlapped and related to each other,when i came to uk in mid 2009 i said just let me  understand first ,i never imagined for a moment that i would speak or write a single word but what had helped me was i have mixed  with a lot of different culture.i  had to live a way of my people here in uk to avoid speaking my own language all the time and learn new language which is english because you can never forget you native language.so i suggest to who want learn a new language to notto  close to their culture for while it's quite difficult but that's  best way my point of vew,thanks