As a writer, you need to have a strong grasp of the different tenses in order to be clear in your communication.
To review, the English language has three simple tenses:
- Simple past tense: describes something that happened in a definite time in the past
- Simple present tense: describes something that happens in the present
- Simple future tense: describes something that will happen in the future
In addition to the simple tenses, there are also three perfect tenses: past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect.
In this post, we will be discussing the correct use of the present perfect tense.
What Is the Present Perfect Tense?
The present perfect tense describes an action that has taken place or a condition that has come to pass by the time of speaking. Other conditions will be described below.
To form the present perfect tense, use has/have + past participle of the verb.
- I have gone to the gym three times this month.
- She has decided to take a gap year before college.
- They have filed for a divorce.
Take note that the event actually happened in the past, but we do not use the past tense. Why?
What Is the Difference Between the Past Tense and the Present Perfect Tense?
One key difference is that the simple past tense refers to events completed in the past. The present perfect tense may refer to things that happened in the past, but they normally continue into the present, or refer to a present reality, such as in the case of something that has happened several times.
- Past Tense: Jem and I were great friends when we were kids. (Since we used the past tense, this means that the state of being great friends is no longer true. It could be because Jem has since moved away and we haven’t been in touch.)
- Present Perfect Tense: Jem and I have been great friends since we were kids. (In this case, Jem is still around, and the friendship continues.)
Another difference is when you’re describing a finished action. If the person is still alive, the finished action is an experience that the person had, in which case you should use present perfect. But if the person is dead, use the past tense.
- Past Tense: My grandmother (who is now dead) went to Hawaii three times.
- Present Perfect Tense: My brother has been to Hawaii three times.
Although both the past and present perfect may refer to things that finished in the past, if the action has a result in the present, use the present perfect tense. If it has no connection to the present, use past tense.
- Past Tense: I lost my wallet yesterday. I had to go to the bank to get all my cards stopped. (The action was completed yesterday, and it has no more connection to what’s going on now.)
- Present Perfect Tense: I’ve lost my wallet! How do I make sure nobody uses my credit cards? (The loss happened in the past, but the speaker is still dealing with the result.)
How Do We Use Present Perfect Tense?
The present perfect tense is used in the following situations:
1. Actions that have occurred at an unspecified time in the past.
When you name a specific time in the past, you use the past tense. But for an unspecified time, you can use the present perfect tense. For example:
- The students have finished preparing their report.
- She has received her fiance’s letter and she’s happily reading it now.
- All the staff members have read the email.
2. To describe an action done repeatedly at an indefinite time in the past.
When you want to describe an event or action that has happened several times, but during an unspecified period in the past, you can use the simple present tense, as in the examples below:
- The boy has seen the movie five times.
- The church bell has rung two times.
- The baby has pooped three times since his mother left.
3. To describe recent events associated with the present time.
You also use the present perfect tense to describe an event that recently occurred, or which has a result felt in the present time. For example:
- The boat has just arrived at the port. Let’s go pick up our guests!
- She has left the house. I think we’re too late.
- The water has reached a boil. Now, put in your pasta.
4. To describe an event or action that began in the past but continues up to the present.
When you want to talk about something that started happening in the past but continues during the time of speaking, use the present perfect tense, as in the examples below:
- We have homeschooled my son since he was in kindergarten.
- She has lived in New York her whole life.
- The mayor has consistently shown his dedication to public service since the coronavirus pandemic began.
5. To talk about a change that has happened over time.
When you want to describe how something or someone has changed over time, use the present perfect tense:
- She has grown so much taller over the summer.
- The teenagers in the house have finally outgrown their sassiness.
- Buck has gotten used to living in survival mode in the wild.
6. To talk about things achieved but without a specific time period.
The present perfect tense is also used for describing accomplishments achieved, but only for those that do not come with a specified period in the past.
- Man has trained every kind of animal, but no one can tame the tongue.
- The company has won the Albert Einstein Award for Best Research.
- The school football team has won the championship at least once.
Present Perfect Tense Quiz
To check your understanding of the present perfect tense, we have prepared this PDF Quiz for you. Circle the correct tense for each sentence. You can also find the questions and answer key below.
- The baby [has grown / grew] two kilograms since his placement in his adoptive family.
- The seagull [has flown / flew] South at the start of last winter.
- When the clock struck six, the churchbells [have rung / rang].
- The naughty little boy [has terrorized / terrorized] every teacher he’s had since he entered this school.
- She [has learned / learned] to bake a cake, so now she can make her son’s birthday cake at minimal cost.
- Mrs. Bowman [has given / gave] her class the greatest volume of homework they’ve ever seen.
- The sisters [have seen / saw] the entire Gilmore Girls TV series more than half a dozen times.
- The writer [has lived / lived] on a farm since she was born; no wonder her books featuring farm animals seem so realistic.
- The airplane [has just landed / just landed] at Changi International Airport. Do you hear it?
- The students [studied / have studied] their lesson, so they should be fine taking the exam now.
- The baby has grown two kilograms since his placement in his adoptive family.
- The seagull flew South at the start of last winter.
- When the clock struck six, the churchbells rang.
- The naughty little boy has terrorized every teacher he’s had since he came in this school.
- She has learned to bake a cake, so now she can make her son’s birthday cake at minimal cost.
- Mrs. Bowman has given her class the greatest volume of homework they’ve ever seen.
- The sisters have seen The Gilmore Girls TV series more than half a dozen times.
- The writer has lived on a farm since she was born; no wonder her books about farm animals seem so realistic.
- The airplane has just landed at Changi International Airport. Do you hear it?
- The students have studied their lesson, so they should be fine taking the exam now.
Using the Present Perfect Tense
While the differences between some tenses mays seem subtle, they can actually make a significant difference in both the perceived meaning of your writing and its quality.
Studying the different verb tenses thoroughly (even if you’re a native English speaker!) will help you to speak and write with greater skill and precision.
Do you have any questions about the present perfect tense? Share them in the comments below!