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The Present Perfect Tense

Also known as present perfective, this is an aspect of the verb expressing that an action began in the past and it has recently been completed or it continues into the present.

  • He has just been to India. 
  • We've seen you before, haven't we?
  • I've got the tickets. Let's go in, the film starts in 5 minutes!

Formulation of the Present Perfect tense

The present perfect is formed by combining the auxiliary has (for he, she, it) or have with the past participle, i.e. the third principal form of the main verb, as follows:

Regular Verbs

For regular verbs the past participle is the same as the past simple tense, which is formed by adding -d or -ed to the present form of the verb. There are certain rules for these terminations.

  • smile - smiled - smiled;
  • live - lived - lived;
  • love - loved - loved;
  • want - wanted - wanted;
  • open - opened - opened;
  • want - wanted - wanted; etc.

Irregular Verbs

For irregular verbs this usually ends in -d, -t, or -n and you learn these from a list of irregular verbs. I strongly advise you to keep revising these verbs regularly, otherwise you forget them easily and then you'll always be faced with difficulties exactly when you need them most.

  • say - said - said
  • buy - bought - bought;
  • write - wrote - written; etc.

Here are a few examples:

  • I have always wanted to visit Paris. (Now I'm here, enjoying it.)
  • You haven't smiled all day today. What's wrong with you?
  • He's bought himself a new power boat - have you seen it?
  • She hasn't seen her mother since last November.
  • It's gone! [It has gone!]
  • We have always said the truth, haven't we? Why change now?
  • You've opened my eyes and for this, I'm very grateful.
  • They haven't learnt this verb tense yet.

Usage of the Present Perfect tense

Here we are not interested in the action, but in the completed fact and its relationship to a given general time aspect. This is expressed by the Perfect Tenses.      

In the sentence [I've bought a hat.] we are calling attention to the possession of the article and not to the act of buying. But if we add 'yesterday' we must say [I bought a hat yesterday.], because now we automatically put our attention onto the actual action of buying. 

The form 'I have bought' is naturally considered in relation with NOW.

  • This relation to NOW may be real [I've read 3 books since I last saw you.] Here we're not interested in the action of reading, but in how many books have been completed;
  • Or the present interest in a past action may be emphasized by "already", "just", "not yet", or "ever". [I have not seen any real dragons yet.]
  • OR... we may use this tense when we do not imply any definite time in the past and are only interested in the result of the action, or the completed fact as we know it now.

This creates confusion for many people whose native language is not English. Common mistakes are mixing the Present Perfect with the Present Perfect Continuous or the Past Simple. Consider this:

  1. I have been preparing for my exam all morning. 
  2. I'm proud to say I have finished 5 units until now.
  3. My friend has been doing the exercises since 7am.
  4. She has already done almost half of them, unlike lazy me...
  1. Present Perfect Continuous - we're interested in the action;
  2. Present Perfect - we're interested in the result (how many units);
  3. Present Perfect Continuous - what has she been doing?
  4. Present Perfect - how many has she done?

Note that the actions in sentences 2. and 4. were completed at some point in the past. The exact point of their completion is not important here, hence there's no mentioning of it. What's important is that the actions are completed now and we can prove this - we have the result.

Further points to consider

Variation: In American English, there is a tendency to use the Past Simple tense instead of the Present Perfect. (David Crystal, Rediscover Grammar. Pearson Longman, 2004)

American English

  • Did you eat?
  • Did you ever see "Lear"?
  • You told me already.
  • Did they come home yet?

British English

  • Have you eaten?
  • Have you ever seen 'King Lear'?)
  • You've told me already.
  • Have they come home yet?

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