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 Raman on Wed, 24/08/2016 - 10:03

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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.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 25/08/2016 - 02:06

In reply to by Raman

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Hello Raman,

In the first pair of sentences, the verb 'has had' in the first sentence is in the present perfect and the verb 'had' in the second is in the past simple.

In the second pair of sentences, 'haven't had' is present perfect ('had' is the past participle of 'have' in this case) but 'haven't got' is present simple.

You can see descriptions of these tenses on the other pages in this section - for an explanation of 'have got', see this BBC page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by friggy44 on Thu, 04/08/2016 - 10:23

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Hello, my grammar question is, I don't want to play at the beginning or I don't want to play from the beginning???

Hello friggy44,

Both 'at' and 'from' are possible here, and so which is correct depends on what you mean. I'd suggest you look them up in the dictionary ('at' and 'from' in the Cambridge Dictionary). Both prepositions can be used in many ways, so you'll have to look through the entries to understand them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chedD1t on Wed, 06/07/2016 - 18:33

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Hello! Today I've seen one more time the film "Back to the future" and there was a sentence which got my attention. Lorraine said : "Our first television set, Dad just picked it up today. Do you have a television?" The question is why in here ~dad just picked it up today~ used past simple and not present perfect.

Hello chedDt1,

We don't like to comment on language used elsewhere, especially in films and songs where the language may be non-standard. I would suggest that to the speaker picking up the TV is no longer 'news' - it happened today, but she has already got used to it and so uses a past form rather than a present perfect. If the TV had just arrived (rather than earlier in the day) then she might say 'has just picked it up'. Note that time references with regard to aspect (perfect and/or continuous) are psychological as well as objective, so we are trying to think how the action looks to the speaker here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you ! But I'm afraid I don't get what you mean about psychological and objective things in the last sentence..

Hello chedD1t,

Objective time refers to when something happened. Psychological time refers to how we perceive it. For example, whether an action was short or long is a subjective question, as is whether or not an action is complete or still having an effect. These subjective issues are what are meant by psychological time.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by J N Sachdeva on Mon, 13/06/2016 - 06:19

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If it is 'will not have' + third form of verb, then is it not modal+ not + first form of verb+ third form of verb

Submitted by J N Sachdeva on Fri, 10/06/2016 - 12:40

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In future perfect tense negative sentences do we say will have not+ third form of verb or will not have+third form of verb?

Hello J N Sachdeva,

In general, it's 'will not have' + third form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Metin on Fri, 03/06/2016 - 18:09

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While saying "it's" do you mean "it has" in the example "it's been raining for hours."?

Submitted by Lucia2016 on Sat, 28/05/2016 - 18:33

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Hello, thanks for helping us learn English through this page! I would like to know if there is a reading comprehension text about present perfect tense on this page so that I can use it as input to teach that verbal tense. Thank you very much. Lucía

Hello Lucia2016,

The best thing to do in this case will be to use the search facility. Click on the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner of the page and type 'present perfect' into the search window. You'll see all the pages tagged as related to the present perfect and there may be one there which suits you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Omer on Thu, 26/05/2016 - 14:52

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Hello sir This website is very helpful to improve English language. Please explain the difference between 'would have' and 'would have been' & 'could have' and 'could have been'

Hello Omer,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! You can find explanations of these in our Modal verbs section – see the appropriate pages there.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manoj maurya on Wed, 11/05/2016 - 20:14

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sir i have query that ,,,, the" changes have been saved. is write" or .. "the changes have saved" i have confused about that" have been "true or" have"

Hello manoj,

'have been saved' is a passive verb and 'have saved' is an active verb. If you're speaking, for example, about changes in a computer file, 'have been saved' is probably the best form – it's hard for me to say without knowing the full context.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by 54321 on Mon, 04/04/2016 - 16:14

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Hello, I have a question. What's the difference between "We’ve been waiting here since six o’clock this morning" and "We’ve waited here since six o’clock this morning" ? Could you explain it?

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 04/04/2016 - 18:05

In reply to by 54321

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Hello 54321,

This is explained on one of our Quick grammar pages as well as in the video on this Word on the Street page. If it's still not clear to you after looking at those resources, please let us know!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kmm71 on Tue, 23/02/2016 - 17:32

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Hello, I have a question. My daughter's English teacher says that the question: "When have you had your baby?" is grammatically correct. Is it? It sounds wrong to me. If it is right or wrong could you please explain why? Thanks!

Hello kmm71,

It is hard to comment without knowing the particular context of a given sentence, and in general we do not comment on what other people may say or what other sites may say. However, generally we do not use the present perfect in this context, and would be more likely to say 'When did you have your baby?' as this is a completed activity in the past. We would use the present perfect if we were asking about something unfinished, such as 'How long have you been a parent?'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Fri, 19/02/2016 - 15:35

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hello, i saw a tennis player interview right after a match where the interviewer use the past simple..could be also correct the present perfect?why not?

Hello manuel24,

The tense used depends on the context, so it is impossible to say for sure. It depends what the exact sentence was.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Wed, 27/01/2016 - 16:46

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hello, if I speak about a dead person I have to use the past simple,right?

Hello manuel24,

That is generally true if you are talking about the person's actions or life. However, if you reference the person in a different context then the present perfect is possible, for example.

John lived in London for forty years.

I've spoken about John before.

 


Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Drhazim on Sat, 23/01/2016 - 11:00

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Hello Sir kirk, I'm confused about using of 'had been +past participle of the verb'.as in the following example: 1. When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years. 2.The couple had been engaged since the summer. 3. He had been developed acrocyanosis. 4. She had been admitted with chest infection. please can you clarify it? with my best regards. Dr. Hazim I. Ghazzay E-mail : -------------------------------------

Hello Dr Hazim,

In sentences 1 and 2, 'had been' is the verb 'be' and 'married' and 'engaged' are adjectives. Although these two latter words are identical to the past participle form of the verbs, they are used as adjectives here and so that sentences are simple copula sentences, i.e. 'X is Y'.

I'm not a doctor, but sentence 3 does not seem correct to me. I'd say 'He has developed acrocyanosis' – 'develop' can be used in the active voice to talk about a condition that a patient has.

Sentence 4 is a passive form of the sentence 'They admitted her with a chest infection'. The passive is very common in this kind of clinical language.

By the way, the sharing of personal information such as you email address is prohibited, as is explained on our House Rules page. Don't worry too much about this – it's a common misunderstanding. I just wanted to explain why your email address was deleted.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Fri, 22/01/2016 - 15:47

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hello, why these sentences are not correct?they have put me some dubt about the use of the present perfect and present perfect continuos. -I’ve been having this computer for over 10 years. -He’s been putting on a lot of weight since he came to Germany. -Has John told you about the party next week? - No, we were talking about last weekend.

Hello manuel,

In certain specific contexts, the use of the present perfect (both simple and continuous) might not be correct in these sentences, but in isolation, all of those sentences are correct!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Wed, 13/01/2016 - 15:48

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Hello! why is there the present perfect in the example "she has lived in liverpool all her life" and not the present perfect continuos?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 13/01/2016 - 21:41

In reply to by manuel24

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Hello manuel24,

Both forms are possible in this context. The continuous form emphasises the process (the living) while the simple form emphasises the totality (the completed time period).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello manuel,

No, using the present perfect clearly indicates that she is still living there, i.e. is still alive. If the sentence had the simple past, e.g. 'She lived in Liverpool all her life', then it would indicate that she passed away. By the way, Rob and Stephen discuss these two forms in the video on Jobs Scene 2 - Language Focus.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dragos Chiva on Wed, 06/01/2016 - 18:15

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Good evening, Is not there any exercise for the Perfective Aspect chapter?

Hello Dragos,

That is correct – at the present time, there is no exercise for this page. We plan to update the Grammar section, including this page, later this year and I believe there will be an exercise on this page after that update. I'm afraid I just don't know yet when this update will take place.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by YuriiChernyshov on Thu, 17/12/2015 - 01:45

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Dear tutors. I am not native speaker and I am trying to improve my grammar. During my duties at work, I am facing some sentences that are confusing me about their grammar. Here they are with my comments about what person meant: - "Documentation has been added.". Person saying that he added missing documentation to the project file. - "Comment has been changed.". Person saying that the comment to the documentation was changed by him (he was required to do some changes, hi did it and report this). - "The safety check has been added, please see below.". Person saying that he added some additional safety check in the documentation. Can you please help to clarify these sentences? Are they correct? Thanks in advance.

Hello Yurii,

Yes, these sentences are correct. All of them feature a passive verb in the present perfect tense. The present perfect is often used to report news, which seems appropriate here. There are different reasons that your colleague might have chosen to use the passive voice, but I suppose that they didn't want to emphasise being the one who had performed the action.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MayaPipo on Tue, 06/10/2015 - 19:39

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Hello I need your help, I'm not sure which of these sentences is correct, because the verb HAVE is a stative verb, so I'm not sure if it is correct using Past Perfect or Past Perfect Continuous. The doctor asked me how long I had had the symptoms. or The doctor asked me how long I had been having the symptoms. had had or had been having ??? which is the correct one? Thanks in advanced

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 06/10/2015 - 22:20

In reply to by MayaPipo

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Hello MayaPipo,

'Have' can be used in a continuous form when it replaces another verb and does not refer only to possession. Here, 'have' replaces 'experience' or 'suffer', and it can be used in continuous forms.

In this context both 'had had' and 'had been having' are possible, though I would say the latter is more likely as it suggests the patient was still suffering at the time of his conversation with the doctor.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter Thanks a lot for your fast response. I also thought the 2 possibilities were Ok, but I wasn't sure and I searched in many web pages but couldn't find the perfect explanation. That's why I decided to ask your team, and it was the perfect decision. Thanks for your help Best wishes and a wonderful day MayaPipo
Hello, is it possible a context where I can say "The doctor asked me how long I had the symptoms?"and if I said "The doctor asked me how long I had had the symptoms" doesn't it suggest that the patient was still suffering at the time......? Thank you in advanced

Hello manuel24,

Your response here could mean either that you still have the symptoms or that you had them at the time but do not any more - it is not clear from just the sentence, but will depend on the context.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hannibal Lecter on Sun, 04/10/2015 - 11:00

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is it possible to use this sentence as an action which happened in the past and no longer happens in present time " i have played guitar" for example: i was a boy and i have played guitar and now i'm doing business ..................................................................................................................... and what is the difference between these two sentences? 1. i had played football 2. i had been playing football, coz both refer to an action which happened in the past and finished in the past i studied both two pages you offered to the others and i'm still a little bit confused.

Hello Hannibal,

The present perfect can be used to speak about an action that is finished (e.g. 'I have been to the DDR') but in the specific sentence you ask about it doesn't work. This is because the time when you were a boy has past (whereas in my example, I was in the DDR and am still alive, i.e. the context is my lifetime) – therefore, the past simple is the tense you need here. I'd also recommend the video on our Transport and Travel Scene 2 Language Focus page – it's only a few minutes long and might also help.

As for your second question, there are many different reasons you might want to use 1 or 2, but in general it's a matter of your perspective on the past event. For example, 1 would make sense in the context of explaining how you changed from one sport to another (I had played football, but rugby was so different that I had to start from zero); here you are viewing it as a period of time that's definitely over. 2 would make sense in the context of explaining why you were tired at a specific moment (I was exhausted because I had been playing football); here there is just a short time between playing football and the time described, and there is a direct connection between them.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by onlineenglish on Thu, 01/10/2015 - 01:31

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Good day. Could you please kindly explain the difference between 'had been waiting' and 'had waited'? Thanks.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 01/10/2015 - 06:57

In reply to by onlineenglish

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Hello onlineenglish,

These two forms are, respectively, the past perfect continuous and the past perfect simple. You can find an explanation of each on the page above and on this page and this page, but for a specific explanation you would need to provide a context - the full sentence, rather than just the verb phrase. This is because aspects (perfective and continuous, in this case) are context-dependent. They tell us how the speaker sees a given action or state, and so the context is crucial. If you can provide the forms in context - in a full sentence - then we'll try to explain the difference in that context.

I think you might also find this page helpful. It deals with the difference between the present perfect simple and continuous, but the distinction is the same for the past perfect, with a different time reference, obviously.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you very much for your kind reply. I have read the pages at the links you provided, and I know more now than I did previously. Still, I would be additionally thankful if you could please kindly clarify the differences between sentences 1 and 2 and between sentences 3, 4, and 5, and whether sentence 5 is even grammatically correct. The sentences refer to an event (a woman's father's death) that happened many years ago but is being recollected in the present. 1. She had been waiting inside his hospital room when her father passed away. 2. She had waited inside his hospital room until her father passed away. 3. While she had been waiting for her father to pass away, she had felt no happiness, only sadness. 4. While she had waited for her father to pass away, she had felt no happiness, only sadness. 5. While waiting for her father to pass away, she had felt no happiness, only sadness. For 3, 4, and 5, 'while' means 'during the time that.' Also, in 3, 4, and 5, could you please kindly clarify if it is correct to use 'had felt' or to use 'felt' for the emotion that the daughter experienced, such that 3, for example, could read as 'While she had been waiting for her father to pass away, she felt no happiness, only sadness'? Thank you sir.