This tense causes maybe the most problems in English. It’s very easy to confuse it with other tenses – particularly the Past Simple and the Present Continuous.
So if you aren’t sure which tense to use, this quick review can help.
The Present Perfect is a present tense
Because we use the Present Perfect to talk about situations and events which are important NOW in some way, the Present Perfect tense is actually a present tense – not a past tense. This means that:
1. If you have a time reference in the past (“last year”, “five minutes ago”, “in 2019”) the event is finished, and you need to use the Past Simple – not the Present Perfect.
“I visited him last month.”
“She left University two years ago.”
Past events can be important in the present. For example, if you have visited London, you still have the memory of your trip to London. This is why we say things like
“Have you ever been to London?” or
“I’ve been to London twice.”
It isn’t important when you visited London. It’s important that you still have the memory of your trip.
2. We often use the Present Perfect to talk about very recent events – because they’re almost “now”. So you hear it in news headlines and announcements:
“The government have opened their new scheme to help employers during Coronavirus.”
“Interest rates have gone down again.”
The Perfect aspect links two time zones
The English tense system contains both time and aspect.
– Future time (“Next year I’ll buy a house.”)
– Present time (“We live in a flat.”)
– Past time (“He left his job last week.”)
On top of that, we have three different filters (or aspects) which we can apply to the three times.
– Simple aspect (for permanent, routine things)
– Continuous aspect (things in progress, repeated events or temporary situations)
– Perfect aspect (linking to a time before)
The Present Perfect links the present to the past. (While the Future Perfect links the present to the future, and the Past Perfect links the past to a past before that).
So when you have an event or situation that starts in the past and continues to the present, we use the Present Perfect (not the Present Continuous).
“I have lived here since 2019.” (I started living here in 2019, and I live here now.)
“She’s had this job for five years.” (She started the job five years ago, and she still does it.)
The Present Perfect Continuous tense
You can also combine the perfect and the continuous aspects to create the Present Perfect Continuous tense.
Use this tense to
– link two time zones (perfect aspect)
– emphasise that an action continued for a long time, or was repeated or temporary
“I’ve been living here for ten years.” (Action continued for a long time)
“I’m not surprised you feel full. You’ve been eating biscuits all day.” (Repeated action – one biscuit after another)
“We’ve been staying at my parents while our house is renovated.” (Temporary situation)
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