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

MultipleChoice_MTYzMzU=

Perfect aspect 2

MultipleChoice_MTYzMzY=

Perfect aspect 3

GapFillTyping_MTYzMzc=

 

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Mon, 02/08/2021 - 02:15

Permalink
1) They have kept telling me that I am a fool. Is this the same meaing with " They have been telling me that I am a fool." If not, why?

Hi DaniWeebKage,

The meanings are similar. Both sentences emphasise that this action ('telling me that I am a fool') has been going on or continuing for some time, but the first version uses vocabulary (i.e., the meaning of kept) to show this meaning. The second version uses grammar (i.e. the use of the present perfect continuous) to show this meaning.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

This is interesting topic to discuss. Can you tell me more about the frist version? Where can I look at this usage?

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 07/07/2021 - 15:45

Permalink
Hello. Could we use "before + perfect tenses"? For example, are the following sentences correct? Why? 1- Before he has arrived, we will leave. 2- Before he had arrived, we left. 3- Before she has cooked, we will arrive home. 4- Before she has got married, she will be 25. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes! All these sentences are correct. We can use present perfect or past perfect with before to show an action that is/was not done or not completed at the time a second action happened.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jonathan. So what is the difference in meaning between the two sentences in each pair of the following sentences? 1a- Before he has arrived, we will leave. 1b- Before he arrives, we will leave. 2a- Before he had arrived, we left. 2b- Before he arrived, we left. 3a- Before she has cooked, we will arrive home. 3b- Before she cooks, we will arrive home. Thank you so much.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

The a and b versions basically mean the same thing, but the a versions mean more emphatically that the second mentioned action happens before the first mentioned action is completed (not just before it happens). The b versions just mean that the second mentioned action happens before the first mentioned one happens, without any special focus on it being completed or not. 

This difference might be particularly relevant when talking about actions that take some time to complete, e.g. cooking in example 3a/3b. But in many other situations, either version would work.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 16:38

Permalink
Hi Jonathan, I just want to confirm whether you have received my queries about the usage of "ever" that I posted on this page in the course of last week because my queries have been missing on this page for a few days and I have not received your answer yet. If you haven't already read my questions, I'll post them again here. I look forward to your reply.

Submitted by alaa.saood on Tue, 25/05/2021 - 08:59

Permalink
hello. I was furious when my new computer stopped working. I'd had it for just two weeks! answer: experience up to the present?? Just as they left the railway station, they realised that they'd got on the wrong train. answer: something that happened in the past but is important in the present?? (past perfect)

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 26/05/2021 - 06:56

In reply to by alaa.saood

Permalink

Hello alaa.saood,

The first sentence talks about something that started in the past (I got the computer) and continued up to a later time in the past (the computer stopped working). The past perfect form in the second sentence refers to something that happened in the past (getting on the wrong train) and is important at a later time in the past (when they were stuck on the wrong train as it left the station).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 04/04/2021 - 12:41

Permalink
Hi great British Council team, I want to ask something because I am very confused. While I was reading English book, I saw this sentence. " I stopped smoking" -Smoking in the sentence is a noun which means in Longman dictionary 'the activity of breathing in tobacco smoke from a cigarette, pipe etc.'? -Or it is a gerund form of the verb 'smoke'? (stop doing something) I am usually confused when I saw the word with '-ing' after a verb. Is it a gerund form of the verb, which is about a pattern, or the noun that ends with -ing. Best wishes. I don't know how I can thank you for your helps.

Hello Nevı,

A gerund is the name we give to a word that is formed from a verb but which functions as a noun. In this case, 'smoking' is a gerund, in other words the noun object of the verb 'stopped'.

Happy to help!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes teacher smoking is a gerund (verb;smoke +ing) , but what about the word 'smoking' in the link. https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/smoking Is it shows the gerund form of a verb smoke+ing? Best wishes.

Hello Nevi,

Yes, although the dictionary does not specify it, it is the gerund of the verb 'smoke'. If you compare other gerunds in the dictionary (e.g. 'swimming'), you'll see it also describes them as nouns. They are nouns when used this way.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hasan 97 on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 17:58

Permalink
Hello sir, I would like to know the difference between the sentences "He had gone there before he went" Or "He had gone there after he went" He went there before he had gone " As we know, past perfect comes before "before" and after "after" According to it, a question arises that Can we reverse the rule? Sir you are humbly requested to expound on it. Thanks in advance

Hello Hasan 97,

The past perfect describes an event in the past before a later past time event, but it also shows a relationship between thost events in that one event (the earlier event) influences the other. Your sentences have no context and so it's not really possible to say what the relationship between the events might be, and if the past perfect would be appropriate, or if two past simple forms, showing a sequence in the past, would be better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Unpopular Opinion on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 16:20

Permalink
Hi there, Does it mean, it is correct to say " I had already discussed with my family" (since i've finished discussing it in the past)

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 22/03/2021 - 06:58

In reply to by Unpopular Opinion

Permalink

Hello Unpopular Opinion,

Without any other context that is not a correct sentence. You need a second past time reference (stated in the sentence or implied by the context), which could be a time in the past or an action in the past.

 

You can read more about the past perfect here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/past-perfect

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 11:36

Permalink
Sir, which one is correct? Next year I will live in London for five years. Next year I will have lived in London for five years.

Hello Plokonyo,

The second one is correct; the first one doesn't make sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Kirk. May I know why the first sentence is not correct?

Hello Plokonyo,

'Next year' speaks about a period of time of one year, but then the phrase 'for five years' speaks about a period of five years. These two time periods are inconsistent for the action 'I will live in'.

You could say something like 'Next year I will move to London for five years' instead, and that would make sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Harry de ZHANG on Tue, 08/12/2020 - 06:28

Permalink
Hi LearnEnglish Team, About this usage of the present perfect, "when we are talking about our experience up to the present" Are there two sentences are correct? - Why my tooth still hurts? I have seen a dentist yesterday. - I don't want any more coffee. I have had it in the morning. My question is: when there's a time mark, like yesterday or this morning, which tense should we use, past tense or present perfect? One of my friends, who's a Brit, told me I should use present perfect under these two circumstances as the influence of the action is still effective in the present even though it happened in the past and there's a time mark in the sentence. Thank you.

Hello Harry de ZHANG,

When we have a time marker which indicates a finished past time period, such as yesterday, last week or 2017, we do not use the present perfect. The correct forms in your first example would be as follows:

Why does my tooth still hurt? I saw a dentist yesterday.

I don't want any more coffee. I had some in the morning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Sun, 06/12/2020 - 04:30

Permalink
Hello I want to know the correct answer: Are you ill? What will be the present perfect of this Have you been ill?/ Have you ill?

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 06/12/2020 - 17:42

In reply to by Samin

Permalink

Hello Samin,

The correct form is 'Have you been ill?'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Tue, 06/10/2020 - 19:43

Permalink
Hello I'm bit confused here can an imperative sentence ends with question mark,like Should we not apologize to her for what we did? Can you help me, please?

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 07/10/2020 - 06:44

In reply to by Samin

Permalink

Hello Samin,

While these sentences are suggesting that the listener do something, technically speaking, they are not imperative verb forms.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ER on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 13:03

Permalink
Hello I am confused about how to use stative verbs with Present Perfect Continuous tense. Please let me know if the following makes sense? 1st: Since how long have you had that flu? 2nd: Since how long have you been having that flu? 3rd: Since how long have you been treating that flu? 'Since how long' implies a time period that began in the past and continued till the present. This means that the correct sentence must use Present Perfect Continuous Tense. However, the 2nd sentence is incorrect because 'having' is a stative verb which cannot be used with a continuous form of tense. 3rd sentence is correct because 'treating' is a dynamic verb which can be used with Present Perfect Continuous Tense. 1st is also correct. Am I right?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 06:52

In reply to by ER

Permalink

Hello ER,

You clearly understand these verb forms in general, but there are a few small points that aren't completely correct. First of all, 'since how long' sounds a little strange to me. I'd recommend saying just 'how long', which communicates the idea you want.

Second, in a question like 'How long have you had the flu?' (or the other two questions), it's the verb form (present perfect simple or present perfect continuous) that communicates the idea of a time period beginning in the past that has a connection with the present. (You could use 'how long' to speak only about the past, e.g. 'How long did the First World War last?')

Third, it's not impossible for a stative verb to be used in a continuous form -- it's just unusual. We can still use a continuous form to communicate one of its common meanings, e.g. to describe something changing or developing: 'I'm loving the new TV series'. In this example, the TV series is still not complete and my use of the continuous could be showing this, or it could be showing that I'm surprised that I'm liking it (it's something new for me to enjoy this kind of programme). But most of the time we'd just say 'I love the new TV series'.

So you are right in thinking that sentence 2 above isn't correct, at least in most situations. It could be correct in a very specific context, but in general we wouldn't use it.

Sentences 1 and 3 are correct.

I hope this helps you understand these finer points.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 23:17

Permalink
The tips is really useful. Thanks.

Submitted by Samin on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 08:01

Permalink
Thank you Jonathan, it's a great help for me So how about this one.. By the you left this school, you would have been a student here for five years - what tense is this

Submitted by Samin on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 08:16

Permalink
Hi there I want to know about this sentence pls help, what type of tense catagory does it belong By the time you leave this school ,you would have been a student here for give years - past perfect with modal verb / simple past

Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 28/07/2020 - 11:30

In reply to by Samin

Permalink
Hi Samin, I think some corrections are needed. It should be: - By the time you leave this school, you WILL have been a student here for FIVE years. This is a future perfect structure ('will have been'). In the first part of the sentence, 'leave' is in the present simple, but 'by the time' means it refers to a future event. Have a look at this page for more explanation and examples. https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/future-continuous-and-future-perfect Best wishes, Jonathan The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Satinder on Tue, 19/05/2020 - 12:41

Permalink
Which is grammatically correct I had spent 50,000 thousands rupees in the last two years on my domestic flights OR I spent 50,000 thousands rupees in the last two years on my domestic flights

Hello Satinder,

Whether the past simple or the past perfect is better will depend upon the context in which the sentences are used. Without knowing the broader context I can only say that both sentences are grammatically possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Charneet kaur on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 12:33

Permalink
Hi team, Which sentence is correct? When you are free in the evening? When you will be free in the evening? (As we don't use future in time clause) Thanks Charneet Kaur

Submitted by Charneet kaur on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 10:13

Permalink
Hi team, I have a query in this sentence while using it in Present Perfect and Past perfect. I have been to France in the last year. I have been to France last year. Which one is correct? I had been to France in the last year. I had been to France last year. Which one is correct? Thanks Charneet

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 14:07

In reply to by Charneet kaur

Permalink

Hello Charneet

In the first pair of sentences, the first one is correct since it refers to a period of time the speaker is still in (the past year). The second is not correct.

In the second pair of sentences, the first one is correct and the second is not. In the second sentence, if you changed 'last year' to 'the year before', then it would be correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Charneet kaur on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 09:42

Permalink
Hi Team, I want to know whether this sentence has been correct or not? If it's wrong ( as per Grammarly it's incomplete), what can be the possible correct answer? The sentence is here as follows: I have been working on this project. Thanks Charneet kaur

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 07:03

In reply to by Charneet kaur

Permalink

Hello Charneet kaur,

The sentence

I have been working on this project

is perfectly fine. That's not to say that it necessarily makes sense in a given context, but there's nothing grammatically wrong with it. In context, you might need to add how long you've been working on the project, for example, but that's not a grammar issue.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MarcoDeAngeli on Sun, 26/04/2020 - 10:42

Permalink
Hello, I often mistake the 3th person. In the "Modals with the perfect" it was used this example: I checked my mobile phone. She could have left a message. Why it's been used "have" instead of "has"?

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 26/04/2020 - 14:41

In reply to by MarcoDeAngeli

Permalink

Hello MarcoDeAngeli

When we use a modal with the perfect, the perfect part ('have' + past participle) never changes. This is a very common mistake. I'd suggest you remember that 'could' is really the verb that agrees with the subject. Since 'could' is a modal, it doesn't take the final -s, but if it were a simple present perfect, it would 'She has left a message', where the verb 'have' is the one that agrees with the subject 'she'.

I hope that helps you remember it, but if you find it more confusing, please ignore what I said!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arad on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 13:39

Permalink
Hi, In the sentence below why you have used 'been'? if the sentence is Past Perfect Continuous, why married and not Marrying? If the sentence is Past Perfect why 'been' is there? "When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly 50 years" Mersi

Hello Mersi

Although there is a verb 'to marry', it is rarely used. More often we use the adjective 'married' with the verb 'to be' or 'to get'.

The expression used here is 'to be married'. So the verb 'be' is in the past perfect ('had been') and the adjective doesn't change form.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jessicacopat on Wed, 11/12/2019 - 15:53

Permalink
hello, could you please clear up the difference between: She has left home, so she cannot answer the phone. She had left home, so she could not answer the phone. Thank you