Chapter 5-8-3: The Present Perfect / Present Perfect Simple Tense

Grammar > Using Verbs > Verb Tenses > Present Perfect

I have eaten pasta twice in the last week.

What is the Present Perfect?

As an overview, it can be said that the present perfect describes actions that occurred in the past, and either:

  • the action is now complete, but the precise time the action happened is unknown or unspecified. Time is vague and unimportant; or

  • the action is not complete and continues into the present (or into the future), and we know when the action started.

How to Form It

The present perfect is formed using:

[has/have + past participle].

The “past participle??”

The past participle often describes a completed action. It is commonly used in the formation of perfect verb tenses.

You’ve seen it before: it’s that third column on irregular verb charts.

So, to form the present perfect, use “has” (singular) or “have” (plural) along with the past participle to form the present perfect tense.

Present perfect examples in the affirmative

Present perfect examples in the negative

Present perfect examples for “yes / no” and short answers

Present perfect examples for information questions

When to Use the Present Perfect

This tense is used to describe action that began in the past and continues into the present or has just been completed at the moment of utterance. The present perfect is often used to suggest that a past action still has an effect upon something happening in the present.

When is the present perfect used?

There are three "patterns" where the present perfect is used:

  1. actions of duration that occurred in the past, but the exact time is not specified

  2. actions that started in the past at an unspecified time but stopped recently

  3. actions that started in the past but continue to the present

Examine these three patterns in the text that follows.

Actions of duration that occurred in the past, but the exact time is not specified

In this first pattern, we don’t know precisely when the action took place because time is unimportant.

  • The action has duration, occurring over time—it didn’t happen in a single moment.

  • Its start time(s) and end time(s) all occurred in the past.


• He has visited Australia several times.

We have already learned Spanish.

I have swum across the lake.

Actions that started in the past at an unspecified time but stopped recently

For this pattern, there is an emphasis on the “now.”¹ The completion of the action places emphasis on the present or on the result of the action. Note the following:

  • the action started at an unspecified time and has already been completed; and

  • the action recently occurred before the present.


• She has arrived. Let’s go meet her.

He has pressed the button. Run!

I have spoken (now).¹ You may leave.

Actions that started in the past but continue to the present

Unlike the previous two patterns, this time we have a good idea of when the action started:

  • the action began at a (known) time before now and continues into the present or may even continue into the future; and

  • this pattern only works with certain verb types.

Note the verb types that this pattern works with:

  • non-continuous verbs and non-continuous uses of mixed verbs; and

  • the verbs “to live,” “to work,” “to teach,” and “to study” are sometimes used in this pattern even though they are not non-continuous verbs.


We have been a team since 2021.

She has lived there for years.

I have understood it for 2 weeks.

We have been here since 10 o’clock.

It has belonged to me since April.

I have taught for 2 weeks.


Specific time

In the first two patterns above, you should know that:

  • you cannot use the present perfect with specific time expressions (yesterday, one year ago, last week, when I was born, when I lived in Montreal, at that moment, on that day, etc.).

  • You cannot use the present perfect with dependent clauses (also called "subordinate clauses") that are preceded by subordinating conjunctions that refer to time (after, as, as long as, as soon as, before, once, 'till, until when).

  • You CAN use the Present Perfect with nonspecific expressions (ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, in the last week, etc.).

Reference to non-existent objects

The present perfect is only used for subjects that still exist (i.e. it would be a faux pas to talk about someone that has passed away in the present perfect).

Watch out for these restrictions—instructors love to test students' knowledge of this on summative assessments.


The present perfect verb tense can be confusing to English learners. For some people, it is easier to think of how the present perfect is used in a variety of scenarios:

Help with "Specific" Versus "Unspecific" Time

Knowing when a time is specific or unspecific can be difficult. Take a look at the following examples and have a discussion with someone if you have trouble seeing the difference in time between the specific and unspecific columns.

The Present Perfect is a "Compound" Tense

If you're interested, learn more about compound verbs in English.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the following sentences is in the present perfect tense.

They have not delivered the documents we need.

This sentence suggests that the documents were not delivered in the past and that they are still undelivered.

The health department has decided that all high school students should be immunized against meningitis.

The writer of this sentence uses the present perfect in order to suggest that the decision made in the past is still of importance in the present.

The government has cut university budgets; consequently, the dean has increased the size of most classes.

Here, both actions took place sometime in the past and continue to influence the present.

The heatwave has lasted three weeks.

In this sentence, the writer uses the present perfect to indicate that a condition (the heatwave) began in past and continues to affect the present.

Donna has dreamt about frogs sitting in trees every night this week.

Here, the action of dreaming has begun in the past and continues into the present.



5-8-3: The Present Perfect / Present Perfect Simple Tense

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Attribution information for this page: Written by Heather MacFadyen and Jamie Bridge with adaptations from englishpage.comPage keywords: specific, unspecific, specified, unspecifiedPageID: eslid68133