The Present Perfect Simple
The Present Perfect Simple is used to describe past finished and unfinished actions. Use has/have + past participle.
Use the Present Perfect to describe finished actions such as life experiences (what you’ve done/haven’t done), a past action with present consequences (such as having lost your keys), actions that have happened recently (such as what has been reported in the news today), and with description of time-in-progress (so far, this week, today, this month, this year...).
- I’ve never been in a hot air balloon. Have you?
- Bill says his dog Spot has run away. Keep your eyes out for Spot!
- Jean called. Her flight has just landed!
- How many English classes have you had so far this month?
Use the Present Perfect to describe unfinished actions such as the duration of something (how long you have known someone), and with expressions ‘since’ and ‘for’ (She’s been studying English for five years).
- Bill and Susan have been married for 29 years.
- How long have you lived in London?
- Philip has worked at the radio station since 2012.
- She’s been out sick for a week.
Be sure not to confuse the Present Perfect Simple with the Past Simple; it’s a frequent mistake!
The Present Perfect Continuous
Although the Present Perfect Continuous isn’t that frequently used, it’s one I often wish my students would use more! The Present Perfect Continuous is formed with the past participle been, followed by the main verb in present participle form. For example, How long have you been studying English?
This tense is used to describe the present result of a finished action (I’ve been studying, so it’s time to take a break), temporary situations (I’ve been studying French recently), and to describe the duration of an action. We can also use the Present Perfect Continuous with phrases describing duration (since 1992, since autumn, for seven years, since last Wednesday…).
- How long has Susan been feeling sick?
- She’s been living in London since 2019.
- Ever since the accident, Keith has been feeling anxious.
- Michael has been doing more yoga recently.
- I’m sorry, I can’t go out tonight. I’ve been working and need to rest.
The Past Perfect
Each time I hear one of my italki students use the Past Perfect correctly, it makes me so happy! I like to describe this tense as the most-past-tense. It’s often used to signal that one past action happened before another past action. Form the Past Perfect by using had + past participle.
The Past Perfect is often used with the past simple to contrast the timing of two past actions. The Past Perfect is used to describe the action that happened first, the action that happened most in the past. For example: By the time the police arrived, the thieves had already escaped. First, the thieves escaped. Then, the police arrived.
- By the time our money had transferred to the account, the stock market had already gained a lot of value, so we decided to wait to invest.
- The cost of air travel had decreased quite significantly, so John decided to buy those tickets to Paris.
- Quinn had decided to buy a new car in January, but is still waiting for the supply chain problems to be resolved.
- By the time she left Morocco, her life had drastically changed!
- Before starting Communication Coaching, Maria had always felt so frustrated with the way she performed at job interviews.
The Past Perfect is also used to describe the duration of a past, completed action, and with conditionals to describe unreal past actions.
- At her son’s six birthday party, Marcie found herself in disbelief that it had been six years since her son was born.
- By the time we left the airport, we had already exhausted all of our options to get on a flight to Pittsburgh.
- If I had known it would rain, I would have brought my umbrella.
The Future Perfect
Another Perfect Tense that you’re going to want to have ready to use is the Future Perfect. Use this tense to describe a future event that has a definite end. Another way to think about this tense is to describe what we will have accomplished in the future. Use will + have + past participle.
- Next summer, I will have been here for a year!
- When I graduate, I will have mastered two foreign languages.
- If I save diligently for the next 8 months, I will have saved enough money to buy a new car.
- Will you have eaten dinner by 7pm?
- Jill’s goal is to have lost 5 kilograms by Thanksgiving.
The Future Perfect Continuous
The Future Perfect Continuous is similar to the Future Perfect in that we launch ourselves into the future and “look back”. The Future Perfect Continuous is different in that it is used to describe actions that are currently unfinished, but will be finished at some time in the future. Use will + have + been + present participle to construct a sentence using the Future Perfect Continuous.
- Next year, Jacob will have been living in Canada for 15 years!
- I can’t believe Jackie isn’t here yet. In 10 minutes, I will have been waiting for an hour!
The English language has a variety of verb tenses that you can use diversely to describe precisely. Strong communication involves having the correct grammatical tools at your disposal, and knowing which tense to use to most accurately describe your point.
The best way to practice using a variety of tenses is to speak! Check out my Conversational Communication Coaching classes on italki if you’d like to practice using these Five Perfect Tenses in your speaking!