Present perfect

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? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Average: 4.1 (46 votes)
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Hello Odette,

These are all correct, though we tend to use the 'b' forms (with 'being' rather than 'having been') after conjunctions or prepositions such as 'after'. The perfect forms (i.e. the ones with 'having') can be used in different ways, but here I understand them to place emphasis on the actions (of being in a coma or being quiet) taking place before the other ones.

In these sentences, I don't think this emphasis is really needed, though perhaps it would be appropriate in a specific context. Most of the time, I would choose the 'b' forms over the 'a' ones.

I hope this helps. By the way, you might find our Participle clauses and Perfect aspect pages interesting, as they are related to this grammar.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thank you, Kirk! Much appreciated.

An example of a similar sentence where the "having been" form is preferred over "being" would be very helpful.

Hello Odette de C.,

You're welcome. In sentences such as the following, the participles beginning with 'having' show that the action was finished before the action in the other clause:

  • Having been made redundant, she started looking for a new job.
  • Having closed the door, I realised I'd left my keys inside.

If you do an internet search for 'participle clauses', you'll find plenty more examples.

Note that this language is not at all common in most speaking in writing.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sylviadz on Thu, 17/08/2023 - 22:08

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Thanks for all explanations I've seen here so far. It's all well organized in a very simple way. The only thing I don't like is how quickly the login exits.

Submitted by melvinthio on Sun, 13/08/2023 - 10:24

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Hi Kirk,
Thanks so much for your great explanation.

[1] Can I conclude that the following sentences are grammatically correct ?

[a] I've understood what you just explained.

[b] I haven't understood what you just explained. Could you explain it again ?

[c] Have you understood what I just explained ?

[2] Instead of using the present perfect for the above three sentences, I assume that people use the present simple more often (I understand what you just explained. / Do you understand......./ I don't understand.......).
Is my assumption right ?

I'd highly appreciate your explanation.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hello Melvin,

My sense is that usually people would just say (1a) 'I've understood', (1b) 'I haven't understood' and (1c) 'Is that clear?' instead of your three statements, but they all look fine to me.

After (1b) 'I haven't understood', people will often say specifically what they don't understand. For example, if you explained to me how to change the oil in a car, I might say 'I haven't understood what tools I need' or 'I haven't understood how to find the oil pan drain bolt'. But I think your sentences are all fine now.

Yes, often people will just say (1a) 'Understood', 'Got it', 'I understand', (1b) 'No, I don't understand what tools I need', (1c) 'Is that all clear?', 'Do you understand?', 'Do you have any questions?'.

I'm being really rather picky here and explaining what sounds natural to me, but others might find your statements better than mine. Anyway, take it for what it's worth!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by melvinthio on Thu, 10/08/2023 - 17:41

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Hi Peter,
Many thanks for your great explanation.
I'm starting to grasp when to use the word "understand" with the Present Perfect but I want to make sure that I've gained a good understanding by asking for your help again with the following questions.

[1] Is my assumption correct that the word "understand" is mostly used in such affirmative sentences ?

a) I've already understood (what you mean/your explanation, etc).

b) If I've understood you correctly, (the order will be cancelled/you will call him tomorrow, etc).

[2] As you mentioned previously that my example "have you understood what I just explained to you ?" doesn't sound natural, does it mean that we can't start a question with "have you understood.....?" Instead, we have to ask "do you understand..... ?"
Is my assumption right ?

[3] Is it grammatically correct to put it in the negative sentence, like for instance :
"I haven't understood what you mean. Could you explain it again?"

I'd be extremely grateful if you could help me again with your detailed explanation.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hello Melvin,

1. I wouldn't say that 'understand' is used mostly in affirmative sentences. As far as I know, there's no particular general pattern disfavouring negative use, though to be honest, I haven't checked a corpus to confirm this. Your sentence b) sounds natural to me. Regarding a), as Peter already pointed out, it sounds unnatural. I'd say the main problem is 'already', since that implies that the understanding happened before this moment in time, which is incongruous with a present perfect time reference, at least within the general conceptual framework Peter explained.

2. That's an interesting question. In fact, 'Have you understood ...?' does sound natural, but I think it would be used in very specific situations, for example, when someone with authority has just given instructions to others with less authority. People also use 'Do you understand ...?' in the same context, and in fact I'd say people tend to use a present simple form more in such situations.

3. That sounds all right if the explanation has just occurred, i.e. right before the time of asking this question. If the explanation happened earlier in time, even just five minutes previous, the present perfect would sound wrong to my ears, at least.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by melvinthio on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 16:44

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Hi Peter,
Thanks so much for your great explanation.
I'm still confused why we can use the word "understand" with the Present Perfect but not "believe" and "know". As we know that these three words indeed belong to the same type of stative verbs (thoughts and opinions) and just like "believe" and "know", the word "understand" also refers to a state rather than an action. So, the three words actually share the same nature, i.e. kind of a mental state.

We could say :
a) Have you already understood what I just explained to you ?

But we couldn't say :
b) Have you already believed what I just told you ? Or
c) Have you already known what I just told you ?

I understood from your previous explanation that we should use the Present Simple (not the Present Perfect) for "believe" and "know" like b) and c), but it would be grammatically correct to use the Present Perfect with "understand" like a).

I'd highly appreciate your detailed explanation in this case.

Best regards,
Melvin

Hello again Melvin,

To my ear your example does not sound very natural. I would say 'Do you understand...' rather than 'Have you already understood...' You could say 'Have you got that?' meaning 'Did you understand it?', which I think shows the difference quite well.

That said, there is a difference between 'believe' and 'understand' as concepts. While we consider (in spite of all evidence to the contrary!) our beliefs to be more or less permanent (just as we consider likes and loves to be permanent) we accept that our understanding changes. Thus we often say something like 'I think I've understood it' or 'If I've understood you correctly...'

As you can see, these are not grammatical issues but rather questions of how we frame certain concepts. They have more to do with social and psychological norms than language rules so I think it's really more a case of picking up the correct usage from exposure via reading, listening etc rather than learning a particular rule. At more advanced levels of language learning there's no substitute for that, I'm afraid!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team