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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Soumis par Jnadeem le mer 30/09/2015 - 11:57

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'I have been studied' Please let me know is it incorrect or correct sentence. Explain if it is incorrect.

Hello Jnadeem,

This sentence is grammatically correct – it means that other people have studied you. That's a bit of an unusual idea, expressed with the passive voice, but yes, the grammar is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par abhinavchauhan1 le lun 21/09/2015 - 19:10

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Hello sir, May you please tell me what exactly is the difference between following two sentences: 1. He has been living here for 20 years. 2. He has lived here for 20 years. Thanks and regards Abhinav

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 22/09/2015 - 07:16

En réponse à par abhinavchauhan1

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Hello abhinavchauhan1,

These are examples of the present perfect continuous and simple, respectively. You can find explanations of the difference between these and how they are used on these pages:

here

here

I hope those pages are helpful. Please let us know if you have any specific questions after reading those.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello abhinavchauhan1,

We replied to this comment more than five years ago. You can find the reply a little below the comment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par fedbet le mer 09/09/2015 - 15:15

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I have a student who has asked why can't we say "I have read this book since last summer" - I know the correct thing to say is "I have been reading this book since last summer", but it is difficult to explain why. We can say "I have lived here since last summer" - meaning that we live here still - why dosn't this work with read ?

Hello fedbet,

Actually, it can be correct to say that, depending on what you mean. If you did indeed finish reading the book, and that it was in the time period beginning last summer and ending now, then it's fine to say it this way. The sentence with the continuous aspect means that you haven't yet finished reading the book.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par uthirapathi le mer 24/06/2015 - 07:46

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Sir, Have is used for present perfect tense and had is used for past perfect then what is the usage of have had? Explain this sentence in all aspects. I've had enough.

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 25/06/2015 - 06:42

En réponse à par uthirapathi

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Hello uthirapathi,

'Have had' is present perfect. It is only confusing because the main verb is the same as the auxiliary:

present perfect: [have/has + past participle]

The past participle of 'have' is 'had'

Therefore, the present perfect of 'have' is [have/has + had]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Muhammad Salik le dim 07/06/2015 - 17:38

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Hi kirk If only modal + perfect is used like "He might have studied" Would it refer to present?

Soumis par Eddi le ven 22/05/2015 - 07:43

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Hello everybody can you tell me please is it okay to say : '' If you asked i would help you'' talking for the past instead of ''If you had asked me I would have helped you'' I know conditionals i just want to know if it can be used this way in speaking ?

Hello Eddi,

This sentence ('asked... would help') refers to the present or future, not to the past. The alternative ('had asked... would have helped') is needed to talk about the past.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Daeiou RK le jeu 21/05/2015 - 19:07

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Hello Mr.Kirk, Thank you for your kind information. With regards, Ravikumar

Soumis par AMIT_B_007 le jeu 21/05/2015 - 18:14

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Sir can u plz tell me how to use had had.. what does it means?...

Hello AMIT_B_007,

'Had had' is the past perfect form of 'have. To form the past perfect we use [had + past participle]. For example:

had gone

had seen

had looked

When the verb is 'have' the past participle is 'had', and so the form is 'had had'.

You can find more information on the past perfect here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Daeiou RK le mer 20/05/2015 - 19:23

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Sir, Please let me know Which one of the following is correct? 1. I have been a reader of 'XYZ' newspaper for 20 years. or 2. I have read 'XYZ' newspaper for 20 years. With regards, Ravikumar

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 21/05/2015 - 07:10

En réponse à par Daeiou RK

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Hello Ravikumar,

I'd say the first one is better; the second one would be more natural with the present perfect continuous.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Daeiou RK le jeu 14/05/2015 - 19:34

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Hello Mr.Kirk, Thanks for your Kind information. With regards, Ravikumar

Soumis par hamadbaghdadi le mer 13/05/2015 - 14:26

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dear please what is the difference between she has lived in france all her life and she has been living in france all her life

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 13/05/2015 - 16:17

En réponse à par hamadbaghdadi

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Hello hamadbaghdadi ,

There are two verb forms here, the present perfect simple in the first sentence and the present perfect continuous in the second. You can read about these forms, how they are used and the differences between them on this page.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Daeiou RK le dim 10/05/2015 - 12:46

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Sir, We generally ask 'Had your breakfast / lunch or dinner?' I think it should be 'Have you had your breakfast / lunch or dinner?'. Please tell me whether I am right or wrong. With best regards, Ravikumar

Soumis par Kirk le dim 10/05/2015 - 18:58

En réponse à par Daeiou RK

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Hello Ravikumar,

'Had your breakfast?' is '(Have you) had your breakfast?' in a reduced form, and is quite common in informal speech. In neutral or formal contexts, however, the full form (with 'have you') is used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ethen517 le dim 03/05/2015 - 19:16

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I just want to ask That how past tense is used in present tense like I am skilled, He is helped? may be i'm asking very silly question but please help me out from this confusion as there is no one to help.

Hello ethen517,

Although these words look like past tenses they are in fact adjectives:

I am happy. (I am a happy person.)

I am tall. (I am a tall person)

I am skilled. (I am a skilled person.)

The sentence 'He is helped' is an example of a present passive form. You can read about passives here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Austin2007 le lun 30/03/2015 - 04:44

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Hi teachers, could you tell me which one is correct? Thanks 1.We have been keep innovating products...; 2.We have been keeping innovating products...; 3.We have kept innovating products...

Hello Austin2007,

The first in not correct. The second is grammatically possible, but does not sound like natural use. The third is fine.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ammu1986 le sam 14/03/2015 - 06:30

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Dear sir Could you please explain me about,ever been and never been in future and perfect tenses.

Soumis par Peter M. le sam 14/03/2015 - 17:28

En réponse à par ammu1986

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Hello ammu1986,

'Ever' means 'at any time' and 'never' means 'at no time'. In questions if we are asking about a person's whole life then we generally use 'ever':

Have you ever been to Scotland?

We usually use 'ever' with negative verbs and 'never' with positive verbs; the meaning is the same in these cases:

I've never been to Scotland.

I haven't ever been to Scotland.

'Been' is simply the past participle of 'be'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par JanaV le mar 10/03/2015 - 22:24

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Hello, I would like to ask whether it is possible to use present perfect in a situation, when talking about the education achieved ten years ago, when I want to emphasize, that I am skilled and well educated for some job. Is it possible to say: " I´ve studied Chemistry." ? Or should I only use past simple? Thank you Jana

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 11/03/2015 - 07:38

En réponse à par JanaV

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Hello JanaV,

The present perfect is fine in this context and is the most common way to express this. It's often referred to as the 'experience' use of the form, describing something in the past which is relevant now. The past simple would not carry quite the same meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Oodo le mer 21/01/2015 - 10:51

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Hi, I have no idea of the difference between these two sentences. Please help me. It has rained for 3 days. vs. It has been raining for 3 days. Thanks in advance, Good day!

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 22/01/2015 - 10:46

En réponse à par Oodo

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Hi Oodo,

The first sentence is an example of the present perfect simple form; the second is an example of the present perfect continuous form. For an explanation of the difference, plus an exercise to practise, take a look at this page.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par natvolkova le lun 12/01/2015 - 14:15

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We use "SINCE" with Present Perfect- "I've known John SINCE we were at primary school."(I still know John) What preposition should be used in a similar situation with Past Simple "I knew John .... we were at primary school"?(If suppose John died)

Hello natvolkova,

In this case, you could say 'when', 'while' or 'whilst' to indicate that time period. The important difference between 'I've known him since...' and 'I knew him when...' is that in the first, you still know him and in the second you no longer do - it was only in the past.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par purna99 le mar 09/12/2014 - 15:25

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Hi what is the diffrence between these two sentences? I've always been good at sports. I am always good at sports.

Soumis par imran_000 le jeu 04/12/2014 - 09:23

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"we will have been gone for five days by the end of our trip" vs "will have gone for five days by the end of our trip" can it be used interchaangibily. if this is not the right section to ask this question then pls post the quetion on the right section thanks

Hello Imran,

As you can see, your question has been answered. Please remember that we are a small team here at LearnEnglish and we deal with many questions every day, in addition to our other work maintaining the site. Sometimes it takes us a little while to answer some questions and I'm afraid this is unavoidable. If you need a quicker answer then I'm sure you can find a local teacher who will be able to provide one - though this, in contrast to LearnEnglish, is unlikely to be a service provided free of charge.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Imran,

In most contexts that I can think of the sentences have the same meaning. However, the sentence with 'been' is the most common form.

Note that there is a slight difference in meaning in some contexts. We would use '...will have gone' when the speaker is still at (for example) home, while '...will have been gone' can be used more widely.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Linx le jeu 27/11/2014 - 08:20

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Hello, I have a question about use of "since" (meaning "from X time/moment"). I've been taught that "since" may only be used with perfect tenses, but is this rule still valid today? Can I use "since" with continuous, e.g. Since 2011 she is being invited as a judge to XXX competitions. (meaning that she has gained some special experience and now everybody invites her as a judge to these competitions) Or is it better to use present perfect?

Hello Linx,

You can use 'since' with continous forms, provided they are also perfect forms. In  your example the present perfect is the correct form ('she has been invited').

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

Soumis par josephalex le jeu 20/11/2014 - 06:15

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Hi i have another doubt "i'm goint to tution" "i'm going for tution" Can you please say which one is right ? thankyou

Hi josephalex,

We'll be happy to answer the question but first I have a request. Please post the question on a relevant page. This page is about the perfective aspect but your question is about something different - it is about prepositions. Posting questions on relevant pages helps keep the site organised so that users can find useful information when they look for certain things.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par josephalex le jeu 20/11/2014 - 06:11

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hi i have a doubt Where Did they go ? Where do they go ? Where did they gone ? which one of the above is correct

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 20/11/2014 - 09:05

En réponse à par josephalex

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Hi josephalex,

Both 'Where did they go?' (not 'Did') and 'Where do they go?' are grammatically correct. Which is the correct one to use will depend upon the context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Litana le mer 12/11/2014 - 03:57

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Hi, I have a doubt about the Past perfect continuous. Could you use it to highlight the consequence. Example: They were exhausted because they had been working all night. Thank you for your answer.

Soumis par Kirk le mer 12/11/2014 - 06:48

En réponse à par Litana

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Hi Litana,

It seems to me that in the sentence you give as an example, the past perfect continuous is used to speak about the cause more than the consequence. I'm not sure that you could use this as a general rule for using the continuous form, though in this case it might be true that it emphasises the cause.

We have a page on the continuous aspect in general, and the past perfect continuous in particular is typically used to emphasis temporary situations (as opposed to permanent ones) or the continuation of an activity (as opposed to completion). In this case, the length of time they worked is what is emphasised.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par letuananhbk93 le mar 04/11/2014 - 11:37

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i can't distinguish PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS and PRESENT PERFECT. somebody helps me !! thanks a lot!!!