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?

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

Intermediate: B1
1)Who ate all my biscuits? Or, 2.Who has eaten all my biscuits? Which sentence is correct and why?

Hi Abdul Mukit,

Both are grammatically correct.

Sentence 1 (past simple) describes a finished and defined past time or state (yesterday, in this example).

  • Yesterday, I noticed that all my biscuits were gone. Who ate them all?

 

Sentence 2 (present perfect) describes a past action with a result in the present. It's often used to describe very recent events or news, as in this example.

  • Oh no! My biscuits are all gone! Who has eaten them?

 

So, which one we use depends on the context. If it is just a single sentence without context (as in your example), Sentence 2 is probably best because we have no information about any finished and defined past time.

 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I came across this sentence and I think the answer is have come .Am I right? And it is not homework.I want to make sure. Thank you very much. Choose the correct answer: They(come- came- have come) across a traditional coffee shop on their walk in the old part of the city.

Hello Hamdy Ali,

Both 'came' and 'have come' are possible correct answers here, and which one is better depends on the situation. If I had to choose only one answer, I would choose 'came' because it works in a much wider number of situations. 'have come' would probably only be appropriate if you were reporting something you just discovered, but even then many times people would probably say 'came'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, Is it grammatically correct to say: "Over the last 5 years I have spoken English con daily basis?" Or do I have to use "for" instead of "over"? Thanks!

Hi Gloria Pérez,

Over is correct here. You could also say for.

 

We usually use over (+a period of time) when something happens intermittently, while for (+a period of time) suggests something happens continually. Thus, in your example I think over is the better choice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Peter! Actually, I used "on a daily basis" because I wanted to make clear that it was "every day". Then, I would have needed to use "for" to convey my meaning. In fact, I'm a bit confused now because, unless "on a daily basis" has another meaning different from "every day", I don't see how you can use "over" (that refers to something you do intermittently) with the time expression "on a daily basis" (that refers to something that you do everyday)... I know that you do not provide translations, but honestly speaking, I do not know how to translate/interpretate the sentence if I use "over"... well, it's not a big deal ;-)!

Hello again Gloria,

The first thing to note is that the difference here is very nuanced and not one which is a hard and fast rule.

 

An intermittent action here is one which occurs many times over a given period of time. This contrasts with an action which is constant and unbroken. In other words, if I do something for three hours then it suggests I spent the whole time on the task. If I do something over three hours it suggests I did in in that time, but may have taken breaks or done it in a series of repeated efforts. That is why over seems slightly more appropriate to me in your example, but either would be perfectly fine.

 

As I said, the difference is very slight and in most cases both can be used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there Choose the correct answer: They(come- came- have come) across a traditional coffee shop on their walk in the old part of the city. I want explanation for the answer please.

Hello Hamdy Ali,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to these kinds of questions. We're happy to help users with their English through explanations are clarifications, but we don't provide answers to tasks from elsewhere. If we did so, we'd end up doing users' homework and tests for them!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

1. Mozart composed many classics. 2. Mozart has moved many people. Are both of these sentences correct? I'm not sure about the second. Mozart lived in the past, but people who were moved by him include people who lived after him. So, I guessed the second may be possible. Am I right?

Hello Kim Hui-jeong,

Yes, both sentences are correct. The present perfect is possible in the second sentence because even though Mozart is dead, his music can still influence people today. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I am confused about the difference between the present perfect tense and the present continuous tense. I would like to ask whether the present continuous tense in the following sentence could be replaced with the present perfect tense and, if yes, whether there would be any difference in meaning. "A lack of government spending is keeping the reform from achieving its intended purpose." Thanks teachers.

Hello brian1010,

It would depend on the actual situation described here (that is, how long this reform has been in place), but it sounds to me as if there would be little if any difference in meaning between the present continuous and present perfect continuous here. The latter form would emphasise the fact that the lack of funding began in the past, but the present continuous also suggests this. This is why I'd say there's little difference in this specific case.

This is not always the case, though. Hope this helps you make more sense of this.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher, Thanks for your reply. You said there is little difference in meaning between the present continuous and present perfect continuous in that sentence. How about using the present perfect tense instead? Thanks.

Hello brain1010,

If you say 'has kept', it communicates much the same idea and speaks about a situation up until the moment of speaking. 'is keeping' and 'has been keeping' suggest that the situation may change, whereas 'has kept' doesn't express this idea as much (though neither does it exclude the possibility).

If you have any further questions about this, could you please provide more context? What exactly tenses mean is highly contextual and so it's difficult to say for sure without knowing more.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher, Thank you for your detailed reply. I have a feeling that the sentences below should use the present perfect tense. May I know why the present continuous tense is used instead? (1) By asking for these particular qualifications, you are, in effect, excluding most women from applying. (2) With tens of thousands of people dying from car pollution, it beggars belief that our leader is proposing more toxic fossil fuel duty cuts. (3) the potential for confusion is being aggravated by the circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic, which are exposing longstanding failings in the process for conducting elections.

Hello brian1010,

I'm afraid I can't explain why the writer of these sentences chose these particular forms. I would need to know the context and their purpose and view of these situations to be able to do that.

But I'm afraid that even if I had that information, this goes well beyond the kind of service we are able to provide these days -- we simply have too many other comments that are directly related to the content on our pages and other work preparing new materials.

I'm sorry we're not able to help you more with this.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, If I say "You have grown since the last time I saw you" as compared to "You have grown since the last time I have seen you", is there any difference in meaning, and if so, what would the difference be? I mean "I saw you" and "I have seen you" both refers to a past action (of seeing) which serves as past time marker (i.e. both refer to a point in the past) correct? Regards, Tim

Hello Tim,

I think saw is the natural choice here. The present perfect describes an open time period stretching up to the present (with an effect on the present), whereas since and the last time imply a finished time period.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have learned although I knew this before still I use every day this tense. It easy to understand for me. To improve english for this present tense to use work has done before an h
Hi, I've tried to do the grammar test 1 and found this question "You've got a new car? How long ___ the old one?" and the correct answer is "did you have". I would like to ask why this is the correct answer, while there is "how long" in the question.

Hello tikah,

If you say 'How long have you had the old one?', this means that you still have the old car. I suppose that is possible, but the idea here is to distinguish between the present perfect, which speaks about something that is still happening (owning the car) and the past simple, which is speaking about something that already finished. 

So 'How long did you have the old one?' means that you no longer have the old car. It is now 2020; if you had the old car from 2007 to 2019, then the past simple is the best form, because it speaks about a finished past time.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Which is correct? Remembering all the things you have taught me. Remembering all the things you had taught me. Remembering all the things you taught me. The context here is I am remembering/appreciating the lessons taught by someone who already passed away.

Hello angeeeeeeel,

All three of these clauses are correctly formed -- in this sense, they are all correct -- but none are a complete sentence (with a subject, verb and complement), and in this sense, none of them are correct.

The third one is probably the most appropriate for the context you mention.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Is if I say "They have burned and killed everything", does this mean that the second verb "kill" is also in the present perfect tense (that is have burned and killed = have burned + have killed)? or is the verb "kill" in the simple past? Also, is it possible to have two or more verbs in the present perfect within the same independent clause/sentence (e.g. I have washed the car and have painted the house and have also bathed the cat)? For that matter, how about two or more verbs of any tense in the same independent clause/sentence, is that possible? Lastly, if I were to say "I have shaved and have washed and have had breakfast", with all three verbs in the present perfect tense, does this mean that all the actions occurred sequentially in the order I have described (i.e. shaving occurred first, followed by washing and lastly having breakfast)?

Hello Timothy555

It's not completely clear whether 'killed' is 'have killed' or just 'killed', but most of the time I think people would understand it to be 'have killed'. We definitely leave out some words when the meaning is understood to be clear (this is called 'ellipsis').

You could certainly have a sentence with multiple present perfect forms such as the one you ask about, but most of the time people would omit the auxiliary verb.

Many different combinations of verb tenses in the same sentence are possible, but I'm afraid I can't list them out for you. If you have a question about a specific combination, please feel free to ask us.

As for your last question, it could be that the sequence of the sentence is the same as that of the actions, but not necessarily. Most people don't speak so precisely, I'd say, but it could well be true.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, Firstly, going by what you've said, and also using back the example I quoted "I have shaved and have washed and have had breakfast", so when you said that most of the time people would omit the auxiliary verb, you mean dropping the "have", and so the sentence will be "I have shaved, washed and had breakfast" and this can mean the same as "I have shaved and have washed and have had breakfast"? Secondly, regarding your point that it could be that the sequence of the sentence is the same as that of the actions described by my example, but not necessarily - by this you are saying that the possibility exists that perhaps washing occurred before shaving despite me saying that "I have shaved and have washed and have had breakfast"? Lastly, is it only the simple past which has such a property of actions occurring in the sequence they are mentioned? For instance, if I say "I finished work, walked to the beach, and found a nice place to swim." - I know that all these actions in the simple past happened one after another in the sequence they are mentioned, but it appears that this is not the case if all three actions were in the present perfect tense. Am I right?

Hello Tim,

Regarding your first point, yes, that is what I meant. As for your second and third points, yes, that is also what I meant, but in general I think you can count on people reporting the sequence correctly. I made that comment because some people are not always so precise in ordinary conversation. But in general it's reasonable to assume that people are reporting things in the sequence in which they occurred. Sorry if that was confusing!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi Kirk, sry to ask further, but assuming that the person is indeed being precise, I am then focusing more on the property of the verb - for instance, by stating one simple past tense verb after another (e.g. I finished work, walked to the beach, and found a nice place to swim), I know that these actions happened one after another. My question then is that assuming the person is indeed being precise, is it then right to say that by reading a sentence filled with present perfect simple tense verbs, one after another, such as "I have shaved and have washed and have had breakfast", that these actions took place one after another - and that indeed one of the uses of the present perfect can be to expressed a sequence of actions which happens one after another?

Hello Tim,

I think most native speakers would use the past simple to express such a sequence of actions in most situations.

If, however, someone was casting some doubt on their statement that they'd carried out these actions, then they might use the present perfect simple to emphasise that they did indeed carry them out. But they could also use the past simple or the past simple with emphatic 'did'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Is the "present perfect tense" also known as the "present perfect simple tense"? Similarly, is the "past perfect tense" also known as the "past perfect simple tense"?

Hi magnuslin,

 

Strictly speaking, English has only two tenses: past and present (non-past). The future is expressed in a range of ways, including the use of modal verbs such as will, might, could etc.

 

Perfect and continuous are aspects, not tenses. Thus, the present perfect is a present tense with perfective aspect. The past perfect is a past tense with perfective aspect. You can add continuous aspect to each of these.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

This part about aspect is rather hard to grasp. Notwithstanding this, I suppose it is not wrong to call the present perfect a tense (i.e. the present perfect tense) right?

Hello magnuslin

You can read more about this in the Wikipedia entry on Grammatical tense. As Peter said, technically speaking, English has only two tenses. Informally, however, many teachers and grammars speak of many other tenses such as the 'present perfect tense'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I've found this frase in an exercise book: "And you haven't had a job since then?". Why not "haven't you had"? The frase is part of a dialogue.

Hello ch14r4,

Both forms are possible. We can form questions by using question word order, as you suggest, or by adding a tag question. In conversation we can also use intonation to make a sentence into a question, and that is what is happening in your example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, If I were to say "this movie has confused and delighted us", is the second verb (i.e. delighted) in the simple past or in the present perfect simple tense? In other words, does the "has" combine with the "confused" and "delighted" to give two present perfect simple verbs, or just one, or neither (as in the "delighted" is simply in the simple past)? Thanks! Regards, Tim

Hello Timothy555

I understand 'delighted' to be the verb 'has delighted' here. People very commonly leave out some words when they believe the context will make the meaning clear. Ultimately there is no way to know for sure without referring to context or asking the speaker, but most of the time that isn't really an issue.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening! And thank you for the great material! I have always had a question about "just". Can we use it with the past simple form like: "I just did it.". And one more question. In the above example (Before she retired, she worked in several different countries), can we use "had worked" instead of "worked"? And if yes, what is the difference?

Hello avger,

It's more common in British English to use a present perfect form with just as the present perfect is often used to describe actions which happen immediately before the time of speaking, but the past simple can also be used in some contexts.

The use of the past simple with just is more common in US English, where the present perfect is slightly less common.

 

You can use either worked or had worked in the example you give. Had worked provides a clearer connection between the two actions and suggests that one influenced the other in some way, but this is context-dependent, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

They _'ve lost__ the documents I sent them! Now I have to send them all again. Why present perfect? They cant lose the (those) documents one more time.
Hello probably yes, he or her( have to send them all again)so them might be lost again. so does exist the possibility to lose them again.
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