The Present Perfect Tense

Perfect = Before
A simple tense will describe a single action in either the past, present or future. A time expression is often used to indicate when this action took place. For example, I did my homework yesterday. If we want to link two actions together, and indicate which action happened first, we use the perfect tense. For example, I had already done my homework when you called. The first action may or may not be completed and may also include a period-of-time between the two events. However, the action in the perfect tense always happened first.

  • Past perfect means before another action in the past.
  • Present perfect means before now.
  • Future perfect means before another action in the future.
We make the perfect tense by adding the auxiliary verb ‘have’ before the past participle of the verb. For past perfect we use HAD. For present perfect we use HAS for 3rd person singular (He, She, It) and HAVE for everything else. For the future prefect we use WILL HAVE.

  • Past perfect: I had done my homework and so the test was easy.
  • Present perfect: I have done my homework hard and so the test is easy.
  • Future perfect: I will have done my homework hard and so the test will be easy.

Past Simple or Present Perfect?
The key difference between the perfect and simple tenses is the continuing effect of the first action. In a simple tense sentence, the action stands alone. If we consider the sentence, “I ate breakfast yesterday”. The action of eating breakfast is finished and is not connected to the present and so now, you may be hungry again. However, if we say, “I have eaten breakfast”, this action – although it happened in the past – because we used the present perfect, we know it is still connected to the present even though no other time or action is included. This sentence suggests that although the action happened in the past, it is still important and suggests I am no longer hungry.

This principle remains the same even if we move it to the past or the future.
  • “I wasn’t hungry yesterday because I had eaten a large breakfast”
  • “I am not hungry now because I have eaten a large breakfast”
  • “I won’t be hungry tomorrow because I will have eaten a large breakfast”
If we take the sentence, “I saw the new Batman movie last Friday, the past tense is used to indicate an action which happened in the past and the time expression points to the exact point. This is a standalone action with no relation to the present. However, if someone then asked, “Do you want to watch the new Batman movie?” You may answer, “No thanks. I’ve already seen it”. Now this past action is connected to the present as watching the movie last Friday is affecting your decision now. We use the Present Perfect to indicate this connection.

In spoken English we often abbreviate or shorten the auxiliary verb ‘have’.
Past Perfect: I had done my homework – I’d done my homework.
Present Perfect: I have done my homework – I’ve done my homework.
Future Perfect: I will have done my homework – I’ll have done my homework.

Time Expressions
One important thing to remember is when using the Perfect tense, we don’t use specific time expressions to indicate when the action happened. For example, “I have eaten breakfast at 7am” would be incorrect. However, we can indicate the time between the two actions by using time expressions.
Just = recently: “I have just finished my homework”
Already = happened sooner than expected: “I have already finished my homework”.
Yet = for questions or negative statements:“Have you finished your homework yet? “I haven’t finished my homework yet”.
For = indicates the duration of an action: “I’ve lived in Canada for 6 months”.
Since = indicates when the action began: “I’ve lived in Canada since October”.