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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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 06:25

In reply to by jessicacopat

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Hello jessicacopat

The first one is speaking about the present time, or events perceived as connected to the present. The second one is speaking about a past time.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Peppy on Wed, 11/12/2019 - 07:14

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Are these both correct: 1. It was all stolen. 2. Everything was stolen. I'm sure the second sentence is grammatically correct but I doubt about the first one. If both are correct, what is the difference between them?

Hello Peppy

Both are grammatically correct. 2 is more likely when you begin speaking about this topic, whereas 1 would be more likely after you'd already spoken about various things that were stolen, or to emphasise that nothing at all was left.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dayan on Tue, 08/10/2019 - 10:31

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What is more correct: It has been years since I saw John It has been years since I haven't seen John

Hello Dayan,

The first one is correct:. You could also say this:

I haven't seen John for years.

 

I noticed you posted the same comment twice. There is always a delay between writing a comment and it appearing because all comments are moderated (checked) before they are published so we can get rid of spam advertising. There is no need to post comments multiple times.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm sorry for repeating twice. Thanks a lot for the answer!! You guys do a great job

Submitted by redream on Fri, 26/07/2019 - 07:57

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Hi. I don't know that this right area for asking these but i took these sentences above. She has lived in Liverpool all her life. She has lived in Liverpool whole her life. She has lived in Liverpool her life all. What is the difference in their meaning or what about their correction? Thank you very much

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 28/07/2019 - 01:17

In reply to by redream

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Hello redream

The first sentence is correct but the last two are not -- neither 'whole her life' nor 'her life all' are correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 09:18

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Hi, Should I have done that? Should have I done that? which one is right? thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 11:58

In reply to by sam61

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Hello sam61

The first one is correct. When there is subject-verb inversion, only the auxiliary verb (in this case, 'should') moves.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Montri on Sun, 05/05/2019 - 08:51

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This sentense is correct in use "He has commented something 5 years ago and it has changed his world." Note: his comment is still here. Thx you!
Hello Montri No, I'm afraid that is not correct. Five years ago is a finished past time -- this means it is a time that has no effect on the present) and so a present perfect (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-perfect) form is not correct here. Instead, I would suggest a past simple (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/past-simple) form: 'He said something five years ago and it changed his world'. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Montri on Sun, 05/05/2019 - 06:02

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Q:Did you hear about Sue? The answer should be; 1.She has given up her job. OR 2.She gave up her job. Thx you.
Hello Montri, Both forms are possible, depending on the context. I suspect that the first answer is the one expected as an example of the present perfect used for new information, but there is no grammatical reason why the past simple would be incorrect here. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Fri, 01/02/2019 - 15:11

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hello,in the example "I wasn’t feeling well. I must have eaten something bad" the action i must have.." happened before the other action so is not more correct to use the past perfect? so""I wasnt' feeling well.I had to have eaten ..?"

Hello manuel24,

'Must have' tells us that the speaker does not know the reason why they feel unwell, and is speculating. We use perfect modal verbs to speculate about the past in this way. If the speaker was sure then the past perfect (I had eaten) could be used, as you say.

 

You can read more about modal verbs in the appropriate grammar section:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/modal-verbs

 

We also have pages about deduction in the present

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/modals-deduction-present

and in the past

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/modals-deduction-past

 

Peter

The Learn English Team

Submitted by simbu on Wed, 02/01/2019 - 13:51

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This is the day which has taught me “what is the precious gift in this world”. Is this sentence is correct?

Hi simbu

'What is the most precious gift in this world?' is what comes to my mind, but I'm afraid it's difficult to say whether your version is correct without knowing what you want to say.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wedyan on Fri, 21/12/2018 - 05:02

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Hi , this my sentenc -P.P "she has studied for exam. He has played football since 2years. -Past.P My brother had got a baby for 3 monthes My sister had been worked since 6y ears -P.P.C He has been writing books since 10 years. -PP.WILL I can coocking today,I'll have studied right now. _________________________________ -If she call me in a right moment, i would have called her -She didn't bring a cake ,she might have forgetten about it. -Yasterday i didn't doing will in my exam, i shoud have studied more. -She not here, she must have come by now -I will travel next week, but i shoud have fished my exam by then. Is my sentenc correct?

Hello wedyan,

I'm afraid almost all of those sentences have errors in them.

I think you're trying to do too much at once here. You have many different verb forms on this page, which is designed not to teach all of them at the same time, but as a reference to summarise them for learners who have already studied each of them individually.

My advice to you is to not try to learn so many different forms at the same time. Build your language knowledge up step by step so that you have solid foundations. That way the more advanced forms, such as present and past perfect continuous, will be easier to grasp.

 

Looking at the level of your language in these sentences I think I would recommend these two series to you:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/learnenglish-podcasts/series-01-episode-01

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/word-street

 

Each of these combines listening work with language work and I think they will help you to build up your English step by step.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cbenglish on Mon, 10/12/2018 - 00:57

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Dear sirs, I am writing an essay. This is my first sentence: "In India, marriages have been overwhelmingly endogamous." But I also feel like I have to write it in the present tense: "In India, marriages are overwhelmingly endogamous." I would be greatfull if you could help me understand the difference between the two sentences in two different tenses. Thank you.

Hello cbenglish,

Both sentences are grammatically possible.

The present perfect (have been) tells the reader that this is a practice which has continued up to the present time and suggests (without stating with certainty) that it may be about to change or be in the process of changing.

The present simple (are) does not carry this suggestion.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello peter,does not the present perfect continuous that suggest the action is more temporary? if i say " i have been living here for 2 years" does not that suggest my living is more temporary compared to "i have lived here for 2 years"?

Hello manuel24,

That is correct. In my answer I said 'the present perfect suggests (without stating with certainty) that it may be about to change or be in the process of changing', which means that it may not be permanent/may be temporary. Normally a continuous form would be used, but the verb 'be' is generally not used with continuous aspect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 15/12/2018 - 08:58

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Hello manuel24,

No, the original sentence is present perfect simple. I was confusing your question with a different question I was answering from another user. My apologies! I will edit the reply to avoid confusion.

Normally, the present perfect continuous suggests an action was temporary, as you say. For example:

I've been living in Paris for two years. [it's a temporary situation]

I've  lived in Paris for two years. [Paris is my home]

 

However, in the original sentence we have the verb 'be' and we rarely use this with continuous aspect. Thus, have been is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Sun, 02/12/2018 - 18:17

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why cannot I see my last comment and the others that there was in the first page a few days ago?the first page I saw a few days ago there isn't anymore..

Hello manuel24,

I'm not sure which comments you mean but I'm not aware of any being deleted. Maintenance work is performed on the site all the time, however.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by seelan65 on Sat, 01/12/2018 - 11:02

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Dear Sir In this sentence 'It's getting late. They should have arrived by now' what does 'it' refer to. The time we expected them to arrive? Thanks

Hi seelan65,

The pronoun 'it' in the sentence you ask about is often called a 'dummy subject', because it doesn't really refer to anything. If you follow the link, you can see a fuller explanation of this with a variety of examples.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by seelan65 on Fri, 23/11/2018 - 11:43

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Dear Mr Kirk There are some answers confusing me. Could you please make them clear to me. Your answer to fedbet's question ( 9 Sep 15 ) - 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. Later on the page, it was the explanation for the followings. 1). She has lived in Liverpool all her life. 2). She has been living in Liverpool all her life Explanation - there is no difference in meaning but they differ in emphasis. 1 emphasises the time period whereas 2 emphasises the process of living. My other question : Is there any other layer of meaning in those sentences. In sentence 1 - she still lives in Liverpool but she has already planed to move out from the area to somewhere else in the near future. In sentence 2 - she still live in Liverpool and she has no plan to move out in the near future. Thanks.

Hi seelan65,

Could you please ask me this question by replying to my response to fedbet? I'm sorry to ask this, but that way the conversation will be much easier to follow both now and in the future. 

Thanks in advance.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amrita_enakshi on Mon, 16/07/2018 - 21:06

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Hello sir, can we use the adverb 'everyday' with present perfect continuous ? For example : Mr. White has been coming to our house everyday.

Hello amrita_enakshi,

Yes, you can use 'every day' with the present perfect continuous. Your sentence is correct, though please note that the word 'everyday' is an adjective and what you need here is the adverbial 'every day'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Tue, 10/07/2018 - 08:48

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Hello Sir Please tell me the two sentences are correct or not. I would like to know whether one can use past tense with present perfect or not. For e.g. My uncle who went abroad has come back. / My uncle who went abroad had come back. ( past simple and past perfect) Is this grammatically correct or the first one. thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

Both of these are correct -- good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Mon, 09/07/2018 - 09:47

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Hello Sir Thank you for your reply regarding the three sentences. You said, 'All three are correct.' Please let me know the following are correct or not. The hunter who shot an elephant was taken to custody. The hunter who shot an elephant has been taken to custody. The hunter who shot an elephant had been taken to custody. Thank you. Regards Lal

Submitted by Lal on Mon, 09/07/2018 - 07:58

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Hello Sir The two sentences are from your website. She has lived in Liverpool all her life. It has been raining for hours. Please let me know if I write the same like given below. are they correct and give the same meaning. e.g She has been living in Liverpool all her life. It has rained for hours. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

Yes, those sentences are all grammatically correct. Which is better will depend upon your intention and the context in which you use them. The present perfect simple and continuous forms are often both possible and differ not in fact but in emphasis.

We have a page dealing with just this issue. You can find it here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 10:08

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Hello Sir Please tell me whether the following sentence is correct or not. He is walking to and fro. I think he has been drinking. Also these two: He is walking to and fro. I think he had been drinking. He is walking to and fro.( I think) he must have been drinking. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

The first and third ones are correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by learning on Sun, 17/06/2018 - 15:02

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Hi Teacher, Which is grammatically correct? I've heard them both but am not sure which is correct. Thank you. A. I have never done it until now. B. I had never done it until now.

Hi learning,

Both of these can be correct, but it really depends on the context. We're happy to help you understand these forms if you can provide us with the context or you can also read more about these forms on our present perfect and past perfect pages.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by takebuchi hiroko on Sun, 03/06/2018 - 14:57

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Hello! I wonder if we could say 'Someone has already played soccer (or any other games)' . At the same time, can we say 'I'm playing soccer now.'? In Japanese, concept of 'play' is 'do' rather than 'act'. So it is very confusing for us to use 'play'. Your reply would be great help for me to understand English better. Best regards, Hiroko Takebuchi

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 04/06/2018 - 06:56

In reply to by takebuchi hiroko

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Hello Hiroko,

Both of those sentences are grammatically correct.

When we say 'Someone has already played...' we are talking about some time in the past during the person's life. It tells us that the person has the experience of playing.

When we say 'I'm playing soccer now' we are talking about the current moment - the moment of speaking.

 

Play is most often used in English to describe participating in games (e.g. chess, cards, board games, computer games) and sports involving a ball (e.g. football, billiards, rugby). We use other verbs for different activities. For example, for activities which involve movement or travel we use go (e.g. go skiing, go running, go horse riding, go cycling), while for activities which focus on the use of the body we use do (e.g. do karate, do boxing, do yoga).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you very much for your clear explanation. I now understand the meaning of 'play' and when to use. Very best regards, Hiroko Takebuchi

Submitted by toandue on Sat, 05/05/2018 - 16:14

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I once saw the two following sentences in a English grammar book: 1. As our new furniture is going to be delivered on Monday morning I'll have to stay at home to check that it [has not been/was not damaged] during transit. 2. By the time you finish getting ready, we [will have missed] the train! I thought the actions in square brackets are both mentioned when the spaekers are looking back from future. Then why does only the second sentence use the future perfect form? Thank you in advanced, Toan

Hi Toan,

In sentence 1, the time reference for the verb is brackets is the future time when you're staying at home to check the delivery, which is why the present perfect or simple past works there.

In sentence 2, the time reference for the verb is the time that the sentence is spoken, so the future perfect form is correct there.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team