Present Perfect: 5 points to remember

Present: perfect day out

Language learners have struggled to get their heads round the present perfect and its conjugation for ages. (See what I did there?)  But…

…don’t give up, I know it can feel difficult and mistakes are made but, here’s a run down of how this grand combination of the present tense and the perfect tense. In fact, many languages have, at least in structure, a form of the present perfect.

The History of the Present Perfect

I think we can all agree that the “present” part of the present perfect is fairly simple to understand.  It means now, presently, at this moment, nowadays, whatever is not in the past or future.  

But, what about the “perfect” part?  What makes it so perfect?  In traditional Latin and Ancient Greek, we can see the origins of the modern day present perfect.  Traditionally, a perfect tense is used to show a past event that has some present consequence (or “at the time of speaking” but for our article, present).

The concept of a perfect tense can be traced back to the Indo-European language family. We see this structure a lot, especially in the Romantic languages such as Spanish, French, German, Italian as well as English.  However, in English, it is more strictly used as a perfect tense, whereas other languages use it to express past tense (thus making it not present perfect).

Enough with the history lesson.  What is the present perfect?!

The Present Perfect Defined

Well, you just have to remember that it is referring to the PRESENT.  What makes it perfect? Some action in the past has affected the PRESENT. So let’s look at some examples and see how things work:

Some action that happened in the past but the consequences are noticed in the present.

Here’s the scenario:The window is broken, now. Brenda broke the window, in the past. I can see the broken window, now. So, Brenda has broken the window. You can see how we can connect the past with the present.

An action that started in the past and is also now true.

I moved to London in 2016. I live in London now. I have lived in London since 2016. We connected the past to the present again. The total amount of time of me living in London from past to now. Notice that we have the year that the action started but “live” is not the verb that began the action. Normally, this would be “started” or “moved” for this example.

The experiences in my life up to this point.

I went to Paris 10 years ago. I am alive now. I have been to Paris. To tie together the past experiences in my life up to now without saying when it happened.

An action so recently finished that it is relevant now.

A: Where’s my mom? B: I saw her 2 minutes ago. I have just seen her. She was in the living room. You are asking me now and I have relevant information.

Using yet and already.

We can use these words to help us talk about if the action has already been finished or not. I want to see the new Harry Potter movie. I haven’t seen it yet. The action wasn’t done at any point in the past up to and including now. I don’t want to see the Harry Potter movie. I have already seen it. I saw the movie last weekend. The event/experienced happened at some point in the past and the information is relevant to the conversation now.

So, yes. Sometimes you have to think about when something happened when determining the correct verb tense to use in English. It is not like in German, Spanish or French where the structure (have + past participle) means the past simple. This is a very common mistake for ESL students from these languages. You now have another tool in your arsenal to help you be more specific about when and for how long something has been happening.

You can find more in depth information on the perfect tenses at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_(grammar)

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