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 guddeti sahasra,

Both sentences can be used, but the second one is more likely, since the situation described is a typical one in which the continuous aspect is used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mohammad bazzy le jeu 06/04/2017 - 09:49

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Dear Team When referring to the past, can we use HAD in place of HAVE: "I wasn’t feeling well. I must HAD eaten something bad. I checked my cell phone. She could HAD left a message. " Thank you.

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 06/04/2017 - 13:08

En réponse à par mohammad bazzy

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Hello mohammad bazzy,

I'm afraid not -- there is no instance in standard English where that is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mehnaz Rashid le lun 27/03/2017 - 16:55

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which one is correct: He is going to make a trip around the world / He is going to take a trip around the world ?

Soumis par salmal le mar 14/03/2017 - 18:33

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Dear sir, i want to tell.. an action should be happened in the past. But it is not happend yet.. How do i tell

Hello salmal,

If I understand your question correctly then you want to describe an action which you expected in the past but which did not happen. There are several ways to say this, but I think the one you might be looking for is 'should have', followed by the third form of the verb (the past participle). For example, let us say that I expected my friend to arrive in London yesterday but he is still not there. I might say this:

My friend should have arrived in London yesterday.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thnk u sir... Can i tell.. We should have memorized this in the age of 12..but we have not memorized yet. And .. can we use must have instead of should have.. I hope u will understand my question.thnk u

Hello salmal,

That sentence looks fine to me. You can't use 'must have' in this context, however. If you were talking about a rule or law which you did not follow then you could use 'supposed':

We were supposed to arrive at 8.00 but we were late.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Rakesh Kumar le mer 08/03/2017 - 05:30

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. Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power" is used" to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights......I think instead of" is "here "could be "be used because sentence is in past tense so complete sentences should be in past.i am confused because I read somewhere that we need to maintain the tense of sentences in the whole sentence..... please help me

Hello Rakesh Kumar,

You can use either 'is' or 'could be' in this sentence. Other forms are also possible:

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power is used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights

 

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power has been used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights

 

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power had been used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights

 

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power could be used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights

Amongst others. There is no particular rule here; the normal logic of tense use applies, just as in any other sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir may you tell me the rules about when we need to maintain the tense of a sentence. tell me when and where this rule is applicablethis .May you illustrate this with some examples.as far as I am able to recall my English teacher told me this rule while teaching narration. Sir I am really confused about this rule while. In the first sentence use of IS is wrong or right if it is right then how we are maintaining the tense of sentences or there is no such rule about maintaining the tense of sentences.

Hello Rakesh Kumar,

All of the examples I posted were correct and possible sentences. There is no rule about which tense needs to be used here; it depends entirely on what the speaker wishes to say. For example:

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power is used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights.

We use is used in this example because we are talking about something which happens around the world regularly. This is a normal use of the present simple.

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power has been used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights.

We use has been used because we are talking about something which was done in the past and has a current effect. This is a normal use of the present perfect.

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power had been used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights.

We use had been used because we are talking about something which happened in the past and had an effect on another event in the past. This is a normal use of the past perfect.

Having fought so long against a repressive government, they were aware of how easily power could be used to crush free thought, open discussion, and civil rights.

We use could be used because we are talking about something which is possible but not certain in the future. This is a normal use of the modal verb could.

 

The point is that the tenses use are simply normal tenses, with their normal meaning. Which form is used depends on the intention of the speaker and the situation which they are describing. It is a matter of choice, not grammar requirement.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"Thank you sir, this reply would have cleared so many people's confusions." Any mistake is there?

Hello Marie,

It is grammatically correct, but without knowing what you mean, I can't say if it communicates what you intend it to.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Rakesh Kumar le mer 08/03/2017 - 05:25

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" Not only' did 'they 'have 'a better female-to-male ratio than us, their colleges were far more relaxed when it came to discipline" why instead of using had author used did have... Please help me in understanding my problem.

Hello Rakesh Kumar,

The past simple is used here but it is inverted for rhetorical effect. That means using the auxiliary verb in a similar way to how we form a question:

Normal use:

They not only had a better female-to-male ratio than us, their colleges were far more relaxed when it came to discipline

Inverted for rhetorical emphasis:

Not only did they have a better female-to-male ratio than us, their colleges were far more relaxed when it came to discipline

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Soumava le lun 27/02/2017 - 19:04

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Hello teachers, I wanted to know if the use of "have had been" is right or wrong in the following example: "I have had been a part of the team" While trying to say that I used to be a part of a particular team which I am no longer a part of and/or the team doesn't exist anymore. What would be the right way of saying it without using "used to be a part of..." ?

Hello Soumava,

I'm afraid that 'have had been' isn't correct in any situation, as it is not a correct form. In any case, the present perfect always refers to a time period that still has some contact with the present moment and so is not compatible with a team that used to exist.

The simplest alternative would be the simple past: 'I was a part of the team'. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other way to say without using 'used to', though you could say a bit more if you wanted to be more specific, e.g. 'I was a part of the team, but left it in 2005' or 'but it was disbanded in 2005.'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par kyawphonenaing le lun 13/02/2017 - 07:24

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Hello teachers, Why passive voice, present perfect and past perfect use a lot in formal writing style? With regards,

Hello kyawphonenaing,

Passive voice has a neutral and authoritative tone and so is used a lot in formal writing. It makes statements sound less like one person's opinion and more like authoritative fact.

I don't think present perfect and past perfect are used any more in formal written language than they are in other forms of communication. They are verb forms which express certain time relations and have no particular inherent style or register beyond that.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello kyawphonenaing,

Passive voice has a neutral and authoritative tone and so is used a lot in formal writing. It makes statements sound less like one person's opinion and more like authoritative fact.

I don't think present perfect and past perfect are used any more in formal written language than they are in other forms of communication. They are verb forms which express certain time relations and have no particular inherent style or register beyond that.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par kyawphonenaing le lun 13/02/2017 - 07:03

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Please correct and answer the two below sentences. Which one is better to use? 1. I had facilitated software developer in developing a new MIS system for my organization. 2. I have facilitated software developer in developing a new MIS system for my organization.

Hello kyawphonenaing,

I would guess that the second is probably what is needed. However, the choice of verb form depends on the context in which the sentence is used. Without knowing this context it is impossibe to be sure which is the better option.

The sentence probably needs a definite article:

I have facilitated the software developer in developing a new MIS system for my organization.

Again, however, this is context-dependent and it is not possible to be sure.

Please note that the team here on LearnEnglish provides help with the material on our pages, and explanations of the system of language itself where possible. We do not offer a correction or proofreading service.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Jarek_O le lun 06/02/2017 - 23:30

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Hello, I don't understand one of the examples on the page: "You didn’t ask me or I would have helped you." are "you didn't ask" me and "I would have helped" you alternatives? This sentence: "I would have helped you, but you didn’t ask me" - is clear for me. Do both mean the same?

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 07/02/2017 - 08:08

En réponse à par Jarek_O

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Hello Jarek_O,

The 'or' here is used to mean 'or else'. It's a simple way to show what would have happened under different circumstances. Another way to say this would be:

If you had asked me I would have helped you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par abdelazim yousif le dim 05/02/2017 - 11:45

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hello teachers which one is correct ? to say : 1 - I have been to bed. 2 - I have gone to bed.

Hello abdelazim yousif,

It would be a bit unusual to say 1, and 2 is quite common. So I'd choose 2 as 'correct'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Sorour le lun 09/01/2017 - 08:40

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Hi, He’s still not here. He must have missed his train shouldn't we say: He’s still not here. He must has missed his train I think he should come with has, or is there any rule for this? best regards,

Soumis par Kirk le lun 09/01/2017 - 12:52

En réponse à par Ahmed Sorour

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Hello Ahmed,

'have' is the correct form here - 'has' is not. 'have' + past participle is commonly used after a modal verb (like 'must'). See our modals + have and Modals - deduction (past) pages for more on how this grammar works and what it means.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par sherif85 le ven 06/01/2017 - 15:19

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what is the reason we can't say "They’ve married for nearly fifty years" instead of "They’ve been married for nearly fifty years"??

Hello sherif85,

'marry' is a verb, but it's not used a lot - rather, we usually speak about the act of marriage with the verb 'get' + 'married' (which is the past participle of 'marry', and in this case works as an adjective).

Similarly, when we speak about someone's marital status or how long they've been married, 'married' is an adjective. For this reason, you need to use the verb 'be' - in this case, 'have been' is the verb 'be' in the present perfect tense.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Walid Peace le jeu 22/12/2016 - 21:28

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Can I say, "Have you ever gone to Japan?" I've read in a reference that I can only say "Have you ever been to Japan?" And please can you explain the reason why I can't use "gone" here? And is it wrong if I say, "I have gone to France."

Hello Walid Peace,

We only use 'have... gone' when the person has not returned. For example:

She's been to the shop means that she did the shopping and returned.

She's gone to the shop means that she went out and is still out now.

Thus, the question with 'gone' is not possible as the person is present (otherwise they could not be asked).

You could say 'I have gone to France' only if you have not returned from your trip. For example, you might be in France and talking to someone who is not in France by telephone.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Yuriy UA le mer 07/12/2016 - 16:32

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, Could you help me, please? Which of the two replies of Jack is correct in the following conversation? Ann: Have you read "The Jungle Book"? Jack: No, I haven't, but I have seen the film. OR No, I haven't, but I saw the film. Thank you very much in advance.

Hello Yuriy UA,

Both of these are possible, depending on the context. However, as no time reference is provided, the most likely is the first option ('have seen').

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par chancornelius le sam 26/11/2016 - 16:13

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" I was not feeling well. I must have eaten something bad." "I was not feeling well. I had eaten something bad." What's the difference between two of them? regards

Hello chancornelius,

In the first sentence, 'must have' + past participle is used to show conjecture, i.e. that you're not sure, but you think you know the reason. The second sentence's use of past perfect implies that you know for sure that you felt ill because of what you had eaten. See our Modals - deduction past page for more on this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sunny21parikh le ven 25/11/2016 - 16:01

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The qualities which have supported Smith and given him his hard earned success have been rare in politics. The qualities which have supported Smith and have given him his hard earned success have been rare in politics. The qualities which have supported Smith and gave him his hard earned success have been rare in politics. Sir which one is true? i usually get confused if 'and' is used in sentence.

Hello Sunny21parikh,

There is no difference in meaning here. Including the second 'have' or not is entirely a stylistic choice. I would say that not including it is more common, so that we avoid unnecessary repetition.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok sir......so 3rd sentence(gave) is wrOng. right??? Are there any sentences where we have to repeat Grammer tense (like 2nd sentence)after using 'and'??

Hello Sunny21parikh,

The third sentence can be correct - it depends on what you want to say. The different verb forms show different perspectives on the different events. By using 'gave', you situate the success in a finished past time (that isn't related to the present in the same way as the qualities are (because you use present perfect to talk about the qualities).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par sameer_Omari le mer 02/11/2016 - 11:50

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Hello I hope someone replies my comment IF the person is still living in London ! which one is true??? A- I've lived in London since 1984 B- I've been living in London since 1984

Soumis par Kirk le mer 02/11/2016 - 17:04

En réponse à par sameer_Omari

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Hello sameer_Omari,

Both are correct, though B emphasises the present moment about more. You might want to take a look at our Quick Grammar page on this topic for more information about this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par MCWSL le lun 31/10/2016 - 10:53

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Hello, can Present Perfect refer to the future? ''We have got to do better than last year'' One of its use is an action that we are expecting. Is that used there? Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

This sentence has the verb 'have got' in the present simple tense, which here is used to express something the speaker feels they must do. It's difficult to say exactly what time it's referring to without context, but presumably it's speaking about an action that someone has already started but is still engaged in, or an action that they are about to start.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Amirty le mer 28/09/2016 - 18:06

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please can you help me to understand that (might or should or must ..ect) when i using in correct time whenever past or present perfect, and there is phrases i did not understand why it use "have" rather than "had" the phrases is " I checked my cell phone,she could have left a message".

Hello Amirty,

These words are called modal auxiliary verbs and they are used before other verbs to show the speaker's opinion of an action. There are many modals and each is used in a number of ways so it is not possible to list them all in this answer. However, we have a series of pages about them where you can read about their various uses. You can find those pages here.

Modal verbs have perfect forms which are made by adding 'have' to the modal verb. For example:

must be > must have been

could be > could have been

etc.

You can read about the use of these form on the same pages as those described above.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Raman le mer 24/08/2016 - 10:05

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Hello, Please help to identify the difference between the following two sentences. "I know you new place has had some problems". "I know you new place had some problems". Also, I haven't had a chance to look at your document. (Why had is being used here?) I haven't got a chance to look at your document.