Present perfect

The present perfect shows continuity between a relationship or an action that began in the past and continues into the present. It is formed with the simple present of the auxiliary verb HAVE (has | have) and a main verb in the form of a past participle. Before you continue, review the lesson on the perfect aspect.

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subject aux.
verb
main
verb
 
We have eaten already.
She has gone home.
It has been a difficult day.

 
Continuation from past into present

The present perfect shows continuity between a relationship or an action that began in the past and continues into the present.

Susan and I have been friends for five years.

We have been friends since we graduated from college.

You have to use the present perfect in these sentences, because with the simple present, it is not possible to add the length of time or to state when the friendship began.

Susan and I are friends for five years.

We are friends since we graduated from college.

Using the simple past would mean the friendship lasted for five years and now it is over (Susan and I were friends for five years). The present perfect links the past with the present. I met Susan, we became friends, and we are still friends.

Here is another example:

Tom has worked here since he finished his studies.

Tom was hired by the company right after he graduated and he continues to work for the same company. If using the simple present, it is not possible to include the length of time or state when that period of time began.

Tom works here for two years.

Tom works here since he graduated.

The simple past (Tom worked here) indicates that Tom does not work for company any more.

 
Recent change

Use the present perfect to indicate a change in a situation.

I have found my keys.

The simple past (I found my keys) does not indicate when I found the keys. The present perfect does not say when I found the keys either, but it implies that I was looking for them just now. Another example:

The prisoner has escaped.

The present perfect tells us in unspecific terms that the escape was very recent (minutes or hours ago). The simple past (The prisoner escaped) implies no time period.

 
Link between past and present

Use the present perfect to link an event that began and finished in the past to a present event.

I haven’t been to this park since I was a child.

When I was a child I visited the park at least one time. Now I am an adult and I am in the park again or I am looking at a picture of the park. The present perfect links the past event to the present event.

 
Influence of the past on the present and future

Use the present perfect to show that a recent past event is influencing the present and the future. For example, I met a friend this morning and we made plans to have dinner together. He calls me in the early evening to confirm our plans and I tell him:

I have decided to stay home tonight.

The decision was made very recently (a half an hour ago) and the result of that decision is affecting the present (change of plans) and the future (no dinner together).

If I use the simple past (I decided to stay home tonight), the decision to stay home sounds like it was made a long time ago. It implies that I made no effort to inform my friend of my change of plans. By using the present perfect I bring my decision closer to the present and thereby soften the disappointing news while easing my guilt.

Here is another example: I meet a friend on the street and she asks me, "Do you want to eat lunch with me?"

I ate a sandwich a few minutes ago so I respond, "I have already eaten."

The event (my eating a sandwich), which began and finished in the past, is influencing my present action because I am no longer hungry. I am telling my friend that I do not want to eat lunch with her today because I just ate. The relationship between the past and present is very strong.

 
Future possibilities

Use the present perfect to link a past event with a future action. Another friend calls me and asks me about the new James Bond movie. I respond:

"I haven’t seen it."

By using the present perfect, I am telling my friend that I did not see the movie; however, the possibility remains that I will. The movie continues to play in the local theater and I might go see it. Using the simple past (I did not see it) would imply that the movie is no longer playing in the theater and my opportunity to see it no longer exists.

The present perfect can also link repeated events that began and finished in the past to future possible events.

I have visited Mexico four times.

The four visits to Mexico are over. However, there is a possibility that I will go there again. For this reason I use the present perfect. If I was at the end of my life and I was never going to visit Mexico again, I would use the simple past (I visited Mexico four times).

Present Perfect with Adverbs

The present perfect is often used with the following adverbs:

  • yet
  • already
  • since
  • for

The adverb yet is used in questions to ask if an action has occurred. Note that yet is placed at the end of the sentence.

Has Tom taken his driver exam yet?

Explanation: I know that Tom is getting his driver license. I also know that he needs to take an exam. However, I do not know the date of the exam. Was it in the past? Is it in the future?

The adverb yet is used with negation to indicate that an action has not occurred but a strong possibility remains that it will.

I haven’t seen the film yet.

I may not see the film, however, I probably will.

Warning: Native English speakers sometimes use yet with the simple past. This is grammatically incorrect – with yet, you must use the present perfect:

correct   incorrect
Have you eaten yet? Did you eat yet?
Has Tom taken the exam yet? Did Tom take the exam yet?

Use already to respond to a suggestion to do a completed action.

invitation / suggestion   refusal + explanation
Let’s eat lunch. I have already eaten lunch.
Why don’t we go see this movie? We’ve already seen it.
He should apologize. He has already apologized.

Note that already usually follows the auxiliary verb HAVE. However, it is also possible to place already at the end of the sentence.

I have already eaten lunch.   I have eaten lunch already.
We’ve already seen it. We’ve seen it already.

Warning: Native speakers sometimes use already with the simple past (I ate already). This is incorrect.

Here are examples of Yes / No questions formed using the present perfect with negative and affirmative responses. For the short responses the auxiliary verb is repeated. For the long responses, the complete phrase is repeated.

question   negative response   affirmative response
Have you eaten? No, I haven’t.
No, I haven’t eaten yet.
Yes, I have.
Yes, I’ve already eaten.
Has the mail arrived? No, it hasn’t.
No it has’t arrived yet.
Yes, it has.
Yes, it has already arrived.

Note that yet is used to respond in the negative to a question and already is used to respond in the affirmative.

Remember, you should always respond to a question using the same verb form. Do not respond to a present perfect question with the simple past.

question   incorrect response
Have you eaten? No, I didn’t.   Yes, I ate.
Has the mail arrived? No, it did not. Yes, it arrived

The adverb since indicates when a specific period of time began. Since does not indicate duration. It is used to link an action in the present with the last time a similar action took place.

I haven’t ridden a horse since I was 12 years old.

This example can be interpreted two ways:

  • The last time I rode a horse I was 12 years old and now I am riding a horse again.
     
  • The last time I rode a horse I was 12 and now I am thinking about that last time.

Here is another example:

I have lived here since September.

I have been here since September.

When forming a statement that explains when a specific time period began, the present perfect is required. Many students attempt to use the simple present or simple past. Both are incorrect.

incorrect   incorrect   incorrect
I am here since September. I live here since September. I am live here since September.
I was here since September. I lived here since September. I was live here since September.

The adverb for is used to indicate a duration of time. It links the amount of time that has lapsed between when an action began and the present.

We have lived here for five years.

We have been here for five years.

We moved here five years ago (the exact date is unimportant) and we continue to live here. Again, many students attempt to form this idea using the simple present or simple past. Both are incorrect.

incorrect
We are here since five years.
We were here since five years.

When used with negation, for indicates the amount of time that has lapsed between the last time a specific action took place and the present.

I haven’t eaten pasta for weeks.

This example can be interpreted two ways:

  • The last time I ate pasta was several weeks ago and now I am eating pasta again.
     
  • The last time I ate pasta was several weeks ago and now I am remembering that time.

Do not use the present perfect to talk about a completed action that occurred at a specific time in the past. In these cases, use the simple past.

present perfect   simple past
We have visited Tom in April 2010. We visited Tom in April 2010.
I have eaten yesterday. I ate yesterday.
She has talked to him last Friday. She talked to him last Friday.

It is possible use the present perfect with the adverb since to talk about a specific time in the past but only in the negative. Note that these examples describe an action that began in the past (not visiting Tom, not seeing Alex, not talking to him) and that these actions continue into the present.

We haven’t visited Tom since April 2012.

I haven’t eaten since yesterday.

She hasn’t talked to him since last Friday.

The present perfect can also be used with modal verbs. Remember that modal verbs are always followed by the base form of the main verb. Normally, the subjects she and it must be followed by has, but in these examples, have is not conjugated because it follows a modal verb.

By next month, we will have been married ten years.

It might have been a joke.

I should have called Tom.

 
Related lessons:

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