Present Perfect Tense



I have sung

The present perfect tense is a rather important tense in English, but it gives speakers of some languages a difficult time. That is because it uses concepts or ideas that do not exist in those languages. In fact, the structure of the present perfect tense is very simple. The problems come with the use of the tense. In addition, there are some differences in usage between British and American English.


How do we make the Present Perfect Tense?

The structure of the present perfect tense is:

subject+auxiliary verb+main verb
  have past participle

Here are some examples of the present perfect tense:

 subjectauxiliary verb main verb 
+Ihave seenET.
+Youhave eatenmine.
-Shehasnotbeento Rome.
?Haveyou finished? 
?Havethey doneit?


Contractions with the present perfect tense

When we use the present perfect tense in speaking, we usually contract the subject and auxiliary verb. We also sometimes do this when we write.

I haveI've
You haveYou've
He has
She has
It has
John has
The car has
The car's
We haveWe've
They haveThey've

Here are some examples:

  • I've finished my work.
  • John's seen ET.
  • They've gone home.
He's or he's??? Be careful! The 's contraction is used for the auxiliary verbs have and be. For example, "It's eaten" can mean: 
  • It has eaten. [present perfect tense, active voice]
  • It is eaten. [present tense, passive voice]
  It is usually clear from the context.


How do we use the Present Perfect Tense?

This tense is called the present perfect tense. There is always a connection with the past and with the present. There are basically three uses for the present perfect tense:

  1. experience
  2. change
  3. continuing situation


1. Present perfect tense for experience

We often use the present perfect tense to talk about experience from the past. We are not interested in when you did something. We only want to know if you did it:

I have seen ET.
He has lived in Bangkok.
Have you been there?
We have never eaten caviar.

The action or state was in the past.In my head, I have a memory now. 

Connection with past: the event was in the past.
Connection with present: in my head, now, I have a memory of the event; I know something about the event; I have experience of it.

2. Present perfect tense for change

We also use the present perfect tense to talk about a change or new information:

I have bought a car.
Last week I didn't have a car.Now I have a car. 
John has broken his leg.
Yesterday John had a good leg.Now he has a bad leg. 
Has the price gone up?
Was the price $1.50 yesterday?Is the price $1.70 today? 
The police have arrested the killer.
Yesterday the killer was free.Now he is in prison. 

Connection with past: the past is the opposite of the present.
Connection with present: the present is the opposite of the past.

Americans do not use the present perfect tense so much as British speakers. Americans often use the past tense instead. An American might say "Did you have lunch?", where a British person would say "Have you had lunch?"

3. Present perfect tense for continuing situation

We often use the present perfect tense to talk about a continuing situation. This is a state that started in the past and continues in the present (and will probably continue into the future). This is a state (not an action). We usually use for or since with this structure.

I have worked here since June.
He has been ill for 2 days.
How long have you known Tara?

The situation started in the past.It continues up to now.(It will probably continue into the future.)

Connection with past: the situation started in the past.
Connection with present: the situation continues in the present.


For & Since with Present Perfect Tense

We often use for and since with the present perfect tense.

  • We use for to talk about a period of time - 5 minutes, 2 weeks, 6 years.
  • We use since to talk about a point in past time - 9 o'clock, 1st January, Monday.
a period of timea point in past time

20 minutes6.15pm
three daysMonday
6 monthsJanuary
4 years1994
2 centuries1800
a long timeI left school
everthe beginning of time

Here are some examples:

  • I have been here for 20 minutes.
  • I have been here since 9 o'clock.
  • John hasn't called for 6 months.
  • John hasn't called since February.
  • He has worked in New York for a long time.
  • He has worked in New York since he left school.
For can be used with all tenses. Since is usually used with perfect tenses only.