Present Perfect Essentials

Many of my students ask me questions about when to use the present perfect.

This concept can be difficult to understand because it’s used both for unfinished and finished actions.

Confused yet? First let’s look at the structure.

The Present perfect is created by combining the verb “to have” + past participle. 

I + have + been…

For a question form we use “have + pronoun + past participle”

Have + you + been…?

Let’s look at one of the most common phrases that uses the present perfect to describe a finished action:

Have you ever + (past participle)….?

  • Have you ever studied Chinese?
  • Has he ever been to the United States?
  • Have they seen this movie before?

(The word “before” can be added or removed to the ending of any of these phrases without changing the meaning)

1. The present perfect is used to talk about non-specific experiences. 

  • I’ve been to Brazil 3 times* (It’s not stated when I went to Brazil, therefore the present perfect is used.)
  • I’ve already seen this movie.
  • I’ve had to repeat a class before.

Common Mistakes:

  • I’ve eaten pizza yesterday  (Specific times use the simple past: I ate pizza yesterday)
  • He’s been to China last year (Specific times use the simple past: I went to China last year)
  • Did you see this movie before? (Experiences use the present perfect: Have you seen this movie before?)

Let’s look at another rule at using the present perfect with finished actions.

2. A finished action with an unfinished time word

There are clues when to use the present perfect. Some words signal a need for the present perfect. Here is a list of those words that require the present perfect;

  • since                            I’ve studied since 5 am this morning. 
  • This week                  He’s worked very hard this week.
  • Today                         Today I’ve taught 5 lessons.
  • This month                I’ve watched 6 episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” this month.
  • Just                             I’ve just finished my homework.
  • Already                      I’ve already cooked dinner.
  • Up to now                 He’s done well in school up to now.
  • Until now                   They’ve watched the series until now. 
  • Not yet                       We’ve not finished the project yet.
  • So far                          He’s written 5 letters so far.
  • Recently                     We’ve recently visited our Grandmother.

Here the action is finished, but the time period isn’t.

Here is a list of words that require the simple past and not the present perfect.



in + (year) i.e. “In 2015”

The other day…

Last week/day/month…

3. Finished actions that happened recently and affect us now.

I’ve lost my wallet (so I can’t go to the movies).

Sometimes the second part is understood from the context. Take this conversation for example.

“Mike, where are you? The meeting started 10 minutes ago?” 

“Sorry, I’ve lost my car keys, I’m going to be a little late.”

It’s understood that Mike is late because he drive his car until he finds his keys.

“Jeff has eaten 10 hamburgers, he’s probably going to be sick.”

4. Actions that are unfinished.

Quite simply, the present perfect can be used to describe actions that started in the past and continue today. They include a duration of time.

  • I’ve had my turtle for 6 years. (I still have him)
  • I’ve slept for 5 hours. (I could sleep more)
  • I’ve lived in Brazil for 3 months. (I’m not finished living in Brazil.)


If you have any questions about the present perfect please write them in the comments section below. If you would like to have a lesson with me on Englishtown, click here.







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