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Using the present perfect tense

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If you are an ESL student, you should know how difficult it is to learn the present perfect tense. ESL teachers will also admit that teaching the present perfect tense is far more difficult than teaching other tense forms.

Although the present perfect is a present tense, it is only used to talk about past events. Confusing? Yes. Does that mean that we can use you the present perfect tense to talk about all finished events? The answer is No. The present perfect tense is only used to talk about recently finished past events that have their influence felt in the present moment.

Read the sentences given below.

  • I have finished that report. (So I am free now.)

Here we are talking about a past event that influences the present moment.

  • They have already arrived. (So we donít have to wait for them.)

Here again we are talking about a past event whose effect is felt in the present.

  • I have watered the plants. (So you donít have to water them now.)
  • She has refused that offer. (So we will have to make another more appealing offer.)
  • I have broken my arm. (So I canít work now.)
  • She has got band 8 in the IELTS. (So she should be able to enter a prestigious university.)

We have already learned that the present perfect tense is only used to talk about past events whose influence is felt in the present. We do not use this tense form to simply state that something happened some time ago. We use the simple past tense to express that idea.

  • Her parents died ten years ago. (Simple past)

Here we are simply stating what happened to her parents ten years ago. We do not say whether this past event has any bearing on the present.

  • Her parents have died so she has no one to look after her.

Here we are talking about a past event that has a bearing on the present.

  • She phoned five minutes ago. (NOT She has phoned five minutes ago.)
  • I worked hard on that project but I couldnít make it profitable.

From the past until now

The present perfect tense is also used to talk about an action or situation that started in the past and has continued up to the present.

  • We have lived in this city for ten years now. (= We still live in this city.)
  • I have worked with them for six years. (= I still work with them.)

Life experience

The present perfect tense is also used to talk about things that you have experienced in life. Note that this usage is possible only when we donít state exactly when something happened.

Compare:

  • I have seen that movie. (Here the speaker doesnít say when he saw that movie.)
  • I saw that movie yesterday. (Here we use a simple past tense because the speaker states when he saw that movie.)
  • I have been to every continent in the world. (No time reference)
  • I went to Australia last year. (Simple past with definite past time reference)
  • I have read all novels written by Jane Austen. (Present perfect with no time reference)
  • I read Pride and Prejudice last week. (Simple past with definite past time reference)

See Also
Tenses
Tense rules - overview
The simple present tense
The present progressive tense
The present perfect tense
The present perfect progressive tense
Present tenses to talk about the future
The simple past tense
The past progressive tense
The past perfect tense
Correct use of the past perfect tense
The past perfect progressive tense
Past verb forms with present or future meaning
The simple future tense
The future progressive tense
The future perfect tense
Tenses in subordinate clauses

 

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