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The Present Perfect

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  1. About the perfect tenses
  2. The present perfect

About the perfect tenses

People who are still learning English grammar sometimes confuse the past tense with the perfect tenses. As you know, the past tense is for something that started, happened, and ended in the past. In English the perfect tense, on the other hand, is used to show how something that happened relates to another happening or time in a sentence. It is used for sentences that are more complex than the simple present, simple past, and simple future!!!

Perfect sentences use auxiliary verbs have/has, had, and will have. These are not the same as the regular verb have. Be sure you can understand the different "have" used in sentences like this one:

My sisters have had their own bedrooms.

have = auxiliary verb for the present perfect tense (with subject/verb agreement).
had = the verb have changed to its perfect participle form.

The perfect participle form of a verb must be used with the perfect auxiliaries. If an auxiliary is not used, use the past participle instead.

The past and perfect participles are sometimes the same and sometimes different. Again, you have to memorize their spelling, and the best way to learn them is to read, read, read. However great English through reading takes time, so for now you can find a great list of verbs in all three participles used by English at MyEnglishTeacher.net.

The [be] verb is always changed to been.

Frankie is busy. → Frankie has been busy.

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The present perfect

The present perfect is different from the simple present.

Simple Present: Nick plays volleyball. - this sentence shows that Nick regularly plays volleyball at the present time
Present Perfect: Nick has played volleyball. - this sentence shows that Nick played volleyball in the past and that fact is important for the present.

Don't forget to follow subject/verb agreement rules for [have]. The rules are the same as the simple present tense. Use has for only one kind of subject (third-person singular) and use have for everything else.

He has been here before. - He is in the third-person singular.
They have been here before. - They is not in the third-person singular.

The present perfect connects the past to the present. We often use two words to help with that connection: for and since. For is used with a number and a time word to show how much time has passed after the beginning of an action or happening. Since is used to show a specific time or event that an action or happening started.

Stephan has studied Latin for 4 years.
Stephan has studied Latin since 2010.

The (+), (-), and (?) forms are:

(+) subject have verb.
(-) subject have not verb.
(?) Have subject verb?

Finally, don't forget that you can also add already just and not yet to change the meanings of the sentences. We usually put them right after the auxiliary, but already can be put at the end of sentences as well. Here is an example:

Maria has gone to the library.

Maria has already gone to the library. -or- Maria has gone to the library already.
Maria has just gone to the library.
Maria has not yet gone to the library. -or- Maria has not gone to the library yet.

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©opyright 2017 by Richard Knopf
Updated April 8, 2015