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 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.

Hello Ahmed Imam

The second one is correct. A present perfect form is needed because we still live in our new house now.

If you changed the second clause to 'since we moved to our new house', then a past simple form would be fine, since the move happened in the past.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mar I. on Sun, 26/04/2020 - 02:34

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Hello, I have a question. Why is the Present Perfect a present tense when the verb does not only refer to present time? Hope you can help me! Thanks!!

Hello Mar I.

The idea is that the action began in the past but hasn't yet finished. This is true of many actions in our lives.

This is actually very similar to one of the ways the present perfect is used in Spanish. I'm not completely familiar with Argentinian Spanish, but, for example, if I asked you if had ever visited Asunción (and you have), I think you would probably say something like 'Yes, I have visited Asunción' ('¿Has estado alguna vez en Asunción?' 'Sí que he estado en Asunción'.) Here the verb refers to a time period that began in the past but still includes the present.

Does that answer your question?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by terry1998 on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 14:28

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hello. i correct should my comment could you please answer the following question? what is the difference between "for something ~ 'continues in present' " and "present perfect continuous to emphasise that 'something is still continuing in the present' " i can't understand this.

Hello terry1998,

The difference between present perfect simple and continuous depends on the context in which it used. It's a tricky area and so we have a page specially about this. You can find it here:

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

 

I think the explanations and examples on that page should help you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sankalpa Fer on Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:59

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Hi there, I have problem with the usage of been present perfect. For an instance 1)They've been married for nearly fifty years. 2)She has lived in Liverpool all her life. Why we can't say "She has been lived in Liverpool all her life" instead of sentence number two. I've been bothering with this issue for years. Hope for a good and clear answer.

Hello Sankalpa Fer

In 2 ('she has lived'), the verb 'live' is an intransitive verb. An intransitive verb doesn't have an object -- for example, you can't say 'she lived a war' or 'she lived a difficult time'. (Please note, however, that the verb 'live' can sometimes have an object; just not when it has this meaning.) Intransitive verbs cannot be used in the passive voice. Since 'live' is an intrasitive verb here, 'she has been lived' is not correct.

In 1, the verb is 'have been', the present perfect form of the verb 'be'. Although it looks like it is part of the verb, 'married' is an adjective and not part of the verb. Sometimes when people see the word 'been' they think that it is always part of a passive verb, but here it is not -- it is simply the verb 'be' in the present perfect.

This is a rather difficult topic to explain well in comments, but I hope this helps you understand it a little better. Please don't hesitate to ask more questions about this if you'd like to.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by lima9795 on Wed, 04/03/2020 - 15:13

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hello BBC Say, A person has moved from his home country germany to usa and assume i live in usa.... should i ask How long have you been in Germany? OR How long did you live in Germany? which one is correct?

Hello lima9795

Since the person no longer lives in Germany and since you are in the US, you should use the past simple form: 'How long did you live in Germany?' You might want to have a look at our Talking about the past page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Wed, 26/02/2020 - 15:03

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Hello Sir. Please help me to solve this problem I have a doubt regarding to use of 'ever' adverb. We know that we usually use 'ever' in present perfect tense. Can we use 'ever' adverb in past indefinite.