Using the Present Perfect Tense

Are you wondering when to use the present perfect tense? Or I should say, "have you learned" when to use the present perfect? We use this tense to talk about an action that started in the past and  has a connection to the present.

[Note: Click here to learn how to form  the present perfect.]

Use #1:   Describe past situations / things that have a strong connection to the present

We use the present perfect simple to describe an action or state that started at an unknown or unspecified time in the past AND has a connection to the present.

Learners are sometimes confused by this. They ask, if this tense is called the "present" perfect, why are we talking about "past" actions? Excellent question.

With this tense we're talking about the past  and the present. These actions or situations may have started and ended in the past but we are focusing on the effect of this action now in the present moment. Let's look at some examples to try to make this clearer:

  • Your poor grades have become a problem. (The result now is that there is a problem.)
  • Have you seen Selma? (Where is she now?)
  • She's gone to school. (She left home and is at school now.)
  • Take off your shoes. I have just cleaned the floor. (A short while ago I mopped the dirty floor and it is clean now.)
  • I can't find my keys. Have you seen them? (I lost my keys and can't find them now.)
  • Have you done your homework? (Is your homework finished now?)
  • I started but I haven't finished my homework yet. (My homework is not finished now.)
  • I've been sick all day. (I'm still sick now.)

In each of these examples we are focusing on the result now or why the action is important at this present time.

Use #2: Describe past actions or conditions that continue in the present

It's usually easier for learners to understand the second use which is for actions that started in the past and are still continuing in the present moment.

The tense helps to answer "how long ago" something has been happening (in relation to now) or for how long a period of time something has been happening. 

FOR / SINCE

We often use the words "since" (after a specific time) or "for" (a period of time) with this usage.

Examples:

  • We have lived here for  25 years.(We came here 25 years ago and still live here.) 
  • My parents have been married since  1967. (They're still married.)
  • We've waited 20 minutes already for the bus. (We are still waiting.)
  • My daughter has been sick for a week.
  • I haven’t slept for two days.
  • We haven’t seen each other since high school.
  • I haven’t had a drink since the accident.
  • He hasn’t dated anyone since his wife left him.
  • I haven’t smoked a cigarette for three months now.

Note: we cannot use the present perfect tense with a completed time word. For example:

  • Wrong:  We have seen the movie last night.  (Correct: we saw the movie last night.)
  • Wrong:  Yesterday, I had worked very late. (Correct: Yesterday, I worked very late.)

With finished time words we use the present simple.


Use #3:  To ask about whether we ever  had past experiences

We frequently use the present perfect tense to ask or talk about whether someone has experienced something during their life (at any time in the past until this moment).

EVER / NEVER / BEFORE

Often, we use the words "ever" (in questions) and "never".  We will sometimes also add the word "before."

Examples:

  • Have you ever  eaten fried insects?
  • No, I haven't  tried fried insects and never will.
  • Has Jimmy ever  been this sick before?
  • Have you taken private English lessons?
  • I've never travelled by train before.
  • Have the children ever  done something like this before?
  • Never  in my life have I been so much in love.


Adverbs that are frequently used with the present perfect tense:  Already / yet / just / still

The following words (adverbials) are often used with the present perfect tense:

JUST

Just describes something that happened a short time before this moment.

  • I've just  received your email and will read it now.
  • He's just  arrived, I hear the car pulling to the garage.
  • I'm so excited. Lady Gaga has just  released her latest album.

JUST ABOUT

Just about means that something that was started is almost finished.

  • I've just about  finished this novel.
  • Have you finished the report yet? Just about.
  • I've just about  used up all the milk.


ALREADY

Already has two main meanings:

1. Already = before this time (before now)

  • Where's that letter? I've already  mailed it.
  • Can I help you clean? I've already  swept to the floor but you can vacuum the carpet.
  • We've already  eaten at that restaurant so let's go somewhere else.

2. Already = so soon (something happened quickly or earlier than expected)

  • We need to take the trash out. I've already  taken it out.
  • Has my boyfriend arrived already? I'm still getting dressed.
  • You don't have to ask. Your mother has already  ironed your shirt.

YET

Yet = at this time, until this time, as soon as this time

Note:  Yet usually comes at the end of the sentence. We use yet with negative statements and questions.

  • Have my parents arrived yet?  (They are expected to arrive soon.)
  • Have you finished the report yet?  (It should be done or finished soon.)
  • He hasn't called yet.  (Until this time he hasn't called but he should call soon.)
  • It's 3 o'clock and I haven't had lunch yet.


STILL

We use still in negative sentences with the present perfect to emphasize an action or situation happening or existing before now and continuing into the present:

  • I can't believe you still  haven't written your paper.
  • He said he sent an email an hour ago but I still  haven't received it.
  • We still  haven't decided what to eat for lunch. 

If you need to review how to form  the present perfect tense please check this page. I go over the positive and negative forms, questions, review the irregular past participles and spelling changes and give lots of examples.

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