Present perfect

Level: beginner

The present perfect is formed from the present tense of the verb have and the past participle of a verb.

We use the present perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

They've been married for nearly fifty 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.

We often use the adverb ever to talk about experience up to the present:

My last birthday was the worst day I have ever had.

and we use never for the negative form:

Have you ever met George?
Yes, but I've never met his wife.

Present perfect 1

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Present perfect 2

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  • 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.

Present perfect 3

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Present perfect 4

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have been and have gone

We use have/has been when someone has gone to a place and returned:

A: Where have you been?
B: I've just been out to the supermarket.

A: Have you ever been to San Francisco?
B: No, but I've been to Los Angeles.

But when someone has not returned, we use have/has gone:

A: Where's Maria? I haven't seen her for weeks.
B: She's gone to Paris for a week. She'll be back tomorrow.
 

have been and have gone

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Present perfect with time adverbials 

We often use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to the recent past:

recently just only just

Scientists have recently discovered a new breed of monkey.
We have just got back from our holidays.

or adverbials which include the present:

so far     until now     up to now
ever
(in questions)
yet (in questions and negatives)

Have you ever seen a ghost?
Where have you been up to now?
A: Have you finished your homework yet?
B: No, so far I've only done my history.

After a clause with the present perfect we often use a clause with since to show when something started in the past:

I've worked here since I left school.
I've been watching that programme every week since it started.

Present perfect with time adverbials 1

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Present perfect with time adverbials 2

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Be careful!
We do not use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a finished past time:
yesterday last week/month/year in 2017 when I was younger etc.

I have seen that film yesterday.
We have just bought a new car last week.
When we were children we have been to California.

but we can use the present perfect with adverbials which refer to a time which is not yet finished:
today this week/month/year now that I am 18 etc.

Have you seen Helen today?
We have bought a new car this week.

Present perfect and past simple 1

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Present perfect and past simple 2

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Level: intermediate

Present perfect continuous

The present perfect continuous is formed with have/has been and the -ing form of the verb.

We normally use the present perfect continuous to emphasise that something is still continuing in the present:

She has been living in Liverpool all her life.
It's been raining for hours.
I'm tired out. I've been working all day.
They have been staying with us since last week.

We do not normally use the present perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the present perfect simple instead:

I've always been liking liked John.

Present perfect continuous 1

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Present perfect continuous 2

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Present perfect for future

We normally use the present simple to talk about the future in clauses with before, after, until, etc.:

I'll keep looking until I find my book.
We'll begin when everyone arrives.

but we can also use the present perfect:

I'll keep looking until I have found my book.
We'll begin when everyone has arrived.

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Hello Kapil Kabir,

The first sentence is correct.

No here does have the meaning not any - that is correct. However, the second sentence is not a standard negative. When we use have as a main verb, we negate it with do, just as with other main verbs:

I don't have any money.

If have is an auxiliary verb then it can be negated with not:

I haven't got any money.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 02:34

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Hello Sir.. The question that I'm going to ask, I don't know it is logical or not. But I'm curious to know so that I'm asking it. I have two Asserative sentences 1) Tannu is a girl. 2) I have money. When we change these sentences in Interrogative sentence. We write *1) Is Tannu a girl ? *2) Do you have money? as far as I know, Both 'is' and 'have' are main verb in 1 and 2 no questions. when we change these sentences into interrogative,as I mentioned above, In 1st question. 'Is' acts main verb and makes a interrogative sentence. But in the second 'Have' is main verb in 2nd sentence, when we write *2 sentence why we use 'Do' as a helping verb. Why do we use 'do' as helping verb in sentence *2, although we couldn't use any helping verb in *1, when we make interrogative of sentence 1. Please clarify sir. :)

Hi Kapil Kabir,

Sure, let me try to explain. Be is a bit special and different from other verbs. As you noted, it doesn't need a helping verb to make interrogative and negative forms. Among its other irregularities, it has very irregular forms (e.g. am / is / was / were) and, unlike most other verbs, has contracted forms (e.g. I'm, she's). It's very irregular!

Why is it so irregular? That's a difficult question to answer, and I'm not totally certain. But the meaning of be is very basic and important in life, so it is extremely commonly used. We often find that commonly used (i.e. high frequency) words are more irregular than less common words.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, sir It is very helpful information to understand the question. Thank you.

Submitted by Khangnguyen on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 15:09

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Hello, can you help me with these 2 sentences 1. I haven’t bought that car 2. I didn’t buy that car I find it to be difficult for me to recognize the differences

Hello Khangnguyen,

The difference here is whether the speakers sees the action as finished or as part of an unfinished time period.

The first sentence suggests that the situation might change: the speaker may buy the car, but has not done so yet.

The second sentence implies that the situation will not change: the speaker did not buy the car and does not intend to change that decision.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangnguyen on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 14:43

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Hello, I’m struggling with this situation Imagine your friend said sth to you and you couldn’t hear it very well Will you say:” sorry, i didn’t catch your words” OR “ sorry, i haven’t caught your words” and could you please explain the differences between those 2, thank you

Hello Khangnguyen,

The standard form here is this:

I'm sorry. I didn't catch that/what you said.

 

We use the past simple here, not the present perfect. This is true of all similar situations with similar verbs (understand/see/hear etc).

We would use the present perfect if we wanted to describe something with reference to our entire lives:

I didn't understand his argument.

I have never understood that argument.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 15:51

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Hello Sir, i have a confusion regarding these sentences. 1) I could save Tannu if I were God. 2) I could have saved Tannu if I were God. Are both sentences correct? My teacher taught that both sentences are correct but I think the 2nd sentence is incorrect. Please clarify sir. :)

Hello Kapil Kabir,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. The first sentence describes the present or future. The second sentence is about the past. It tells us that it was possible in the past to have saved Tannu, but that it did not happen; Tannu was not saved, though it was possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 22:04

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This tip is really helpful. Thanks.

Submitted by Avianna on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 12:50

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Hi, could you do a favor and clarify, please? There is a rule that we can’t use Present Perfect after “When” but here it’s said that we can use present perfect after conjunctions until, when to refer to future. Does it mean that we can’t use present perfect after question word “when”?

Hello Avianna,

There is no rule which says you cannot use the present perfect after the question word 'when'. It really depends on the question. When the question is asking for a concrete date then the past simple is appropriate:

When did you go to London?

When did Sue start work?

However, when the question is about a person's whole life, especially when the implied answer is 'never', the present perfect can be used:

When have you ever admitted you were wrong?

When have the majority of people ever really understood the legal system?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for clarifying. In local textbooks it's said that we never use Present Perfect after question adverb "when" because we ask about some past moment and no other explanations. Now I see. And one more question about "articles", usually we don't use article "the" with the name of bridges but there're some ones that are used with "the". And as far as I know we use The with the name Golden Gate Bridge but in our test book such answer isn't given, they use it without article "the". I can't understand why

Submitted by Mahmoudmohamed on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 09:39

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I need to know the answer and why ....... Aisha won't help me, I'll have to do it all alone. A) whereas B) since

Hello Mahmoudmohamed,

The correct answer is since.

The meaning required here is similar to 'because', and since can have this meaning.

Whereas is used to show a contrast between two things: Paul is tall and dark, whereas John is short and fair.

 

Please note that generally we do not answer questions like this as we focus on providing explanations, not help with tasks from elsewhere. We don't want to help people with their homework or tests!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 11:42

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Hello sir, I have a great confusion with a sentence that is " Thank you" I have two sentences 1) Thank you. 2) Come, Tannu. In the second sentence as we know that Tannu is a Vocative case. But in the first sentence, is "you" an objective, nominative or vocative case. Which type of case is 'you' in the first sentence. Please clarify sir...

Hello Kapil Kabir,

I'd call the 'you' in 'thank you' the objective case because 'thank you' is in a sense an abbreviated form of 'I thank you'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I read a sentence in Longman Dictionary Of Common Error, there are some sentences These are 1) I thank you very much for your last letter. 2) Thank you very much for your last letter. According to the book the first sentence is wrong and the second is correct.

Submitted by lis_to_lis on Thu, 16/07/2020 - 19:35

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Hello! Could you, please, clarify me the issue about Present Perfect tense? Why can I say "I have discovered some tombs in Egypt." meaning that there is the following result and it's also my experience (and I'm obviously not doing it now), but I can't say "I have worked in a hotel" meaning that I have such an experience, but don't work there now? Does it depend on verb meaning as it is with the verbs "be" and "go"? If so, is there any classification of the verbs?

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 17/07/2020 - 07:57

In reply to by lis_to_lis

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Hello lis_to_lis,

You can say I have worked in a hotel. It is perfectly grammatical provided you don't also include a finished time reference.

I've worked in a hotel. [in my life]

I worked in a hotel in 2005. [finished time reference, so past simple needed]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Sun, 12/07/2020 - 10:33

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Hello sir, I have a confusion regarding the use of 'lest' word. Most of times the word "lest" followed by "should" and sometimes not. 1)She turned away from the window lest anyone see them. 2)She worried lest he should tell someone what had happened. Is there any difference in the meanings of both these two sentences? Please clarify sir.

Hello Kapil Kabir,

'lest' has two very similar meanings -- I'm not sure if you found these example sentences in this dictionary, but I can see both of them there. Both are the same in that they are speaking about events that we don't want to happen.

'should' is sometimes used with 'lest' because the clause is about an action that could happen by accident -- 'should' is sometimes used this way, particularly in British English, to refer to events which could happen by chance in conditional sentences.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 17:17

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Hello sir, The whale is no fish. The whale is not a fish. We know that these two words are mostly used for negation. I want to know that No+ Noun Not + a Noun What is main difference between these two words and what is the difference in meaning of these given sentences. Plz clarify sir.

Hello Kapil Kabir,

'no fish' is more emphatic than 'not a fish', but other than that, there is no difference in meaning. You might use the first one when, for example, someone else has just claimed that whales are fish.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 19:02

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Hello sir, I have a doubt regarding the use of "SING" verb. 1) Tannu sang a sweet song. 2) Tannu sang loudly. Sir, Sing is an intransitive verb. In the 1st sentence sang (past form of sing) has a direct object but an intransitive verb never takes a object. Is the 2nd sentence correct? Sir, provide a valuable reason.

Hello Kapil Kabir,

Sing is an ergative or labile verb, which means a verb which can be both transitive and intransitive. Thus, both sentences are correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 23:18

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Hello. Could you please help me? Are the following two sentences correct? If so, what is the difference between them? 1- Tom has worked for this company since 2008. He’s still working there. 2- Tom has been working for this company since 2008. He’s still working there. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The forms here are present perfect simple and present perfect continuous. The difference is a subtle on which often causes some confusion, so we have a page on this very topic to help learners. You can find it here and I think it will explain the issue for you:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/present-perfect-simple-and-continuous

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 06:34

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Hello sir I have a doubt regarding the use of that and if in indirect speech if we use both in an indirect speech. Question The Government warned the shopkeepers that if they persist in charging in high prices, their licenses would be cancelled. Sir, here, both are correct or incorrect. Which one is preferable to use. In English Grammar. Please clarify.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 07:18

In reply to by Kapil Kabir

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Hello Kapil Kabir,

The use of that if in your example is fine. I think the tenses are inconsisent, however. If you use persist then I think you should use will rather than would; if you use would then persisted would be a better choice to maintain consistency.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, if we use persisted instead of persist. Then The Government warned the shopkeepers that if they persisted in charging in high prices, their licenses would be cancelled. Sir if we use that If+ V2 is a conditional sentence structure then the main clause also follow "would".

Hello Kapil Kabir

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. The sentence in your last comment is grammatical and sounds natural.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Mon, 25/05/2020 - 14:39

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One of present perfect use is "for something that happened in the past but is important in the present". My question is on the meaning of "happened". Does "something" refer to an action, and "happened" mean that the action started and finished in the past? Thank you. - John Lin

Hello magnuslin,

Yes, that's correct. However, note that there are other uses of the present perfect in which the action is ongoing (unfinished past).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, don't you mean states or situations instead of actions? Meaning that if a state/situation started in the past and continues to the present, for instance "I have loved sweets since I was a child", "love" isn't an action but is a state/stative/non-continuous verb isn't it?

Hi magnuslin,

I used the word 'action' as that was what your original question referred to. It could be actions or states, of course, depending on the particular verb in question.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, I said situations/states because I thought that present perfect when used in the sense of unfinished past is only used with stative verbs. For action verbs, we must use the present perfect continuous when talking about an action that starts in the past and continues to the present. I guess what I mean is that for "unfinished past" kind of uses, present perfect is used for stative verbs, while present perfect is used for action verbs. Shouldn't this be the case?

Hello magnuslin,

The present perfect continuous is more common for unfinished actions, but that does not mean that the simple form cannot be used with this meaning. It's really a question of what the speaker wishes to emphasise, with the continuous form emphasising the activity (the effort or work being done) and the simple emphasising the action (the achievement or result (or lack of result)).

I've been arguing with him for over an hour now. [...and I'm exhausted]

 

I've argued with him for over an hour now. [...and still haven't convinced him]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, thank you. To help me understand better, I would like to seek your clarification over the following points. To recap a little, you mentioned previously that "there are other uses of the present perfect in which the action is ongoing (unfinished past)" - by this "action is ongoing (unfinished past)", you are referring to something which begins in the past and which continues to the present (for example an action such as speaking on the phone)? Also, regarding the examples you quoted above, "'ve been arguing with him for over an hour now. [...and I'm exhausted]" - this refers to a continuous action (arguing) that started in the past and which is still ongoing now? "I've argued with him for over an hour now. [...and still haven't convinced him]" - this refers to an action (arguing) which began and ended in the past, but the effect is still felt now, which is "I still havn't convinced him"? Is my understanding of the above points correct?

Hello magnuslin,

by this "action is ongoing (unfinished past)", you are referring to something which begins in the past and which continues to the present (for example an action such as speaking on the phone)?

That's correct. The present perfect connects the present to the past in various ways, showing that the past event (action/state) is still relevant or current in some way. This may be through a present result of a past event or it may be that an event is ongoing. It could also be a sequence of events which may continue. Really, it is not the event which is incomplete but rather the time in which we place it. Psychologically, we see the event as still current in some way.

 

"I've argued with him for over an hour now. [...and still haven't convinced him]" - this refers to an action (arguing) which began and ended in the past, but the effect is still felt now, which is "I still havn't convinced him"?

Not quite. The effect is still current, as you say, but it is not clear whether or not the arguing will continue or is finished. By using the simple form rather that the continuous, the speaker is focusing on the total achieved (look at what I've completed) thus far rather than the process (look at what I've been doing). In other words, they are drawing attention to the fact that two hours has passed, not whether or not they will continue.

 

Sometimes there is a clear distinction between simple and continuous. When no time reference (duration) is given, the simple form indicates that a task is complete:

I've read Moby Dick. [I've finished it; we're interested in the achievement/success]

 

I've been reading Moby Dick. [probably not finished; we're interested in the act of reading]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So if I simply say "I've argued with him", this means that the action of arguing began and ended in the past - meaning to say this carries the same meaning as "I've read Moby Dick", correct? However if I were to say "I've argued with him for over an hour now", it is not clear whether the arguing is finished or still continuing/will continue, correct?

Submitted by Timothy555 on Sun, 24/05/2020 - 02:12

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Hi Peter, thanks for the explanation. Regarding the same use of the present perfect and it example, "One of the uses of the present perfect is for something that happened in the past but is important in the present, such as "I've lost my keys"", is it possible to use it with a finished time word for this particular use of the present perfect, as in I've lost my keys last week, and hence I can't open the door now"? Is it a case where, regardless of the use of the present perfect (whether "for something that started in the past and continues in the present" or "for something that happened in the past but is important in the present" etc), we can never use the present perfect with a specific finished time word as we do with the simple past? Regards, Tim

Hi Tim,

We don't use the present perfect with a finished time marker. The present perfect represents unfinished time and so a finished time marker would create dissonance.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Eshwar Sai on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 16:32

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Hi, Could you just elaborate the difference between two sentences below: A: I have recieved several mails this morning. B: I received several mails this morning. And also A: She has been living in Liverpool all her life. B: She has lived in Liverpool all her life. Thanks in advance. Regards, Eshwar

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 08:02

In reply to by Eshwar Sai

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Hi Eshwar Sai,

It's hard to comment on this without knowing the full context in which the sentences are used. Multiple interpretations are possible.

In the first pair, sentence A may suggest that the speaker thinks more emails are possible. Sentence B suggests that there will be no more emails. Alternatively, it may be that the speaker considers the emails still relevant and important to the situation (A) or completed and no longer important (B). Without knowing the context, we are simply speculating.

 

The same is true of the second pair of examples - multiple interpretations are possible. You can read more about this on the page on the difference between the present perfect simple and continuous:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/present-perfect-simple-and-continuous

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 14:57

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Hi, One of the uses of the present perfect is " for something that happened in the past but is important in the present, e.g. I've lost my keys". My first question is: does this mean that the action (for example, the action of losing the keys) started and ended in the past, but that the result/consequence of that completed past action can be seen/felt in the present (e.g. now I am unable to enter the house)? May I know if my above understanding on the use of the present perfect tense is correct? My second question is that for the present perfect tense, is it necessary for the past action (i.e. the action that began and ended in the past) to have occurred in the recent past, i.e. does it matter how long ago this past action occurred? if this action happened quite sometime back, but that the person concerned is still alive, can i use the present perfect in this sense, to indicate that a completed action in the past still has a result in the present? or is it only for recently completed past actions (with results in the present) that i can use the present perfect tense? Appreciate your advice to my above two queries, thanks! Regards, Tim

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 11/05/2020 - 07:36

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Tim,

We can use the present perfect for an action which took place in the past but has a present result. In your sentence, for example, the actual losing of the keys was in the past - they fell out of the speaker's pocket, for example. However, the effect (not losing but rather no longer being in possession) is in the present.

We can also use the present perfect to describe actions or states which began in the past and are still ongoing.

For example: I have lived in Istanbul for 12 years.

 

While we do use the present perfect for events which happened very recently (recently enough for them to still be producing a response), we can also use it for events very far in the past, provided there is still a connection to the present.

For example: Humans have lived in cities for at least six thousand years.

 

The connection to the present is rather subjective. The speaker needs to see the action as still impacting the present in some way rather than being historical in nature.

For example, we would use the present perfect to describe an author's career production providing the author were still alive: She has written fourteen novels.

We could use the present perfect to describe any new novels: She has written a new detective novel, which is very popular.

However, we would use the past simple to describe earlier novels as these would be considered completed events: She wrote her first novel in 1979.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 20:55

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Hello. Could you please help me? Which sentence is correct and why? - Nobody has come to see us since we lived in our new house. - Nobody has come to see us since we have lived in our new house. Thank you.