Maria: Hey Daniel, how long have you been a teacher?
Daniel: I’ve been a teacher for three years now.
M: Have you taught many lessons on the present perfect?
D: Of course! I’ve taught hundreds!
M: How many have you taught this week?
D: I haven’t taught any this week yet. This is the first one!
Let’s start with two basic but important points. Try to keep these in mind as you watch!
First, the present perfect connects the past and the present.
Secondly, think about the name, ‘present perfect’. It’s a present verb form. It tells you something about now.
Even though you often use the present perfect to talk about things in the past, it’s still a present form; it gives you some information about the present.
Let’s start by looking at how to form the present perfect tense.
1. How to Form the Present Perfect
The present perfect is formed with have or has plus a past participle. Have and has are often contracted. For example:
- I’ve finished everything.
- She’s just left.
- We’ve been here for hours.
Past participles usually look the same as the past tense. For example:
- finish – finished – finished
- leave – left – left
However, many common verbs are irregular. That means you need to know irregular verbs to use the present perfect.
There’s also a continuous form of the present perfect, with been plus a verb with -ing. For example:
- I’ve been cleaning the house all morning.
- He’s been acting very strangely lately.
However, in this lesson, we’re going to focus on the simple verb form.
Make negatives by adding not after have or has. Again, this form is often contracted. For example:
- I haven’t seen anything like that before.
- He hasn’t helped at all.
- They haven’t given me much information.
Make questions by moving have or has before the subject:
- Have you booked the tickets yet?
- How long has your sister been a vet?
- How many people have you told about this?
Next, let’s look at how to actually use the present perfect, and what it means.
2. Talking About Life Experiences
M: Have you ever been to Argentina?
D: No, I’ve never even been to South America, but I’d love to go!
D: Have you ever been skydiving?
M: Yeah, actually. It was amazing!
M: Have you tried kangaroo before?
D: No, never. What’s it like?
D: How many times have you seen this film?
M: More than once.
D: So, twice? Three times?
M: Okay, okay, I’ve seen it eight times.
You can use the present perfect to talk about life experiences. You just heard different examples of this. Do you remember the questions we asked?
This is common with questions like:
- Have you ever…?
- Have you … before?
- How many times have you…?
- Have you ever seen a ghost?
- Have you met Amit before?
- How many times have you bought something and never worn it?
In all these questions, you don’t say when. You don’t use a time reference like this year or recently.
That’s because all these questions are asking about your whole life. You don’t say it, but the meaning is there.
Try something now: pause the video and write down three questions. Use your own ideas. Then, write your own answers! Pause the video and do it now.
Now, let’s look at another way to use the present perfect.
3. Talking About Unfinished Time
D: Have you called about the Internet yet?
M: I haven’t, I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy all day.
D: You said you’d do it today! I haven’t been able to do any work since Monday! I’ve tried to call several times this week, but they always say that they can only talk to the account holder. That’s you!
M: I know, I’m sorry. I just haven’t had time all week.
M: So, what can I help you with?
D: Well, I haven’t been feeling well recently.
M: What are your symptoms?
D: I’ve had a really bad cough for a couple of weeks now. This week, I’ve started to feel really slow and tired, and I haven’t had much appetite.
M: Have you had any nausea? Headaches?
D: No, not really.
M: We’ll do some tests and see what we can do.
You can use the present perfect to talk about a time period which is unfinished.
Remember that the present perfect connects the present and the past.
For example, take today. Today is an unfinished time period. It’s started, but it hasn’t finished yet.
You heard several other unfinished time periods in the dialogues. Can you remember any?
Here are some examples:
- I’ve been so busy all day.
- I haven’t been able to do any work since Monday!
- I haven’t been feeling well recently.
- This week, I’ve started to feel really slow and tired.
Other unfinished time periods include things like this week, this month, this year, and so on.
So, if you’re talking about an unfinished time period, you can use the present perfect.
To make this clearer, compare unfinished time with finished time:
- I’ve been so busy all day. -> I was so busy yesterday.
- I haven’t been able to do any work since Monday! -> I wasn’t able to do any work last week.
- I haven’t felt well recently. -> I didn’t feel well last weekend.
- I’ve had a really bad cough for a couple of weeks now. -> I had a really bad cough last year.
When you talk about a finished time period, like last year or yesterday, you need to use the past simple. You can’t use the present perfect to talk about finished time periods.
Sometimes, you can choose to use the present perfect or the past simple with an unfinished time period. For example:
- I’ve worked hard today.
- I worked hard today.
These are both possible, but there’s a small difference in meaning. Do you know what?
The first sentence, with the present perfect, suggests that today is not finished yet. Maybe you have more work to do!
The second sentence, with the past simple, suggests that today is finished. It’s the evening and you’re relaxing after a long day!
Let’s practice. Look at three incomplete sentences:
- I haven’t … today.
- I’ve … a lot this week.
- I haven’t … enough recently.
Can you complete the sentences to make them true about you? For example, you could say something like:
- I haven’t eaten any fruit today.
- I haven’t watched TV today.
- I haven’t had a shower today.
Pause the video and write down three sentences.
Learn more about describing your day with this Oxford Online English lesson on talking about routines.
Okay? How was that? Let’s look at one more way to use the present perfect tense.
4. Talking About Unfinished Actions/States
D: How long have you lived here?
M: For about a year.
M: Have you two known each other long?
D: Yeah, since we were at primary school!
D: How long have they been married?
M: I’m not sure. I think for a couple of years? Maybe not even that long.
M: Nice jacket! Is it new?
D: This? No, I’ve had it for years!
You can use the present perfect to talk about something which started in the past and is still true now.
- How long have you lived here? -> This means that you still live here now.
- Have you two known each other long? -> You still know each other now.
- How long have they been married? -> They’re still married now.
- I’ve had this jacket for years. -> I still have it now.
Be careful: there’s a common mistake which English learners make here. It looks like this:
- I’ve bought this jacket for three years.
Can you explain why this is wrong?
It’s wrong because the action of buying the jacket is finished, and in the past. You could say:
- I bought this jacket three years ago.
The action of having the jacket is not finished. It started in the past, when you bought it, and it’s still true now, because you still have the jacket now.
Again, it’s useful to compare the present perfect and the past simple:
- I’ve lived here for about a year. -> I still live here now.
- I lived there for about a year. -> I don’t live there now.
- How long have they been married? -> They’re still married now.
- How long were they married? -> They’re not married now.
Okay, your turn to practice! Look at three incomplete sentences:
- I’ve had … for …
- I’ve lived in … since …
- I’ve been …
Your job is to complete these sentences so that they’re true for you. Pause the video, think about what you could say, and write down three sentences. If you aren’t sure, review this section and use the examples you’ve seen to help you.
How was that? Hopefully easy! Let’s look at one more way you can use the present perfect tense.
5. Past Actions with Present Consequences
M: What’s wrong with you?
D: Eurrgh. I’ve eaten too many cakes and now I feel terrible.
M: How many did you have?
D: I had six or seven.
M: That was smart.
D: But they were so tasty…
D: Have you lost something?
M: Yeah, I’ve lost my phone. I put it down somewhere and now I can’t find it.
D: When did you last use it?
M: I don’t know. I had it last night, for sure. Can you call me?
M: Oh no! The cat’s been sick on the couch!
D: Again? That’s the third time this week.
M: Can you clean it up?
D: I cleaned it last time!
You can use the present perfect to talk about things in the past if there’s still a result in the present.
- I’ve eaten too many cakes and now I feel terrible. -> I ate the cakes in the past, but the result—feeling terrible—is still true now.
- I’ve lost my phone. -> I lost my phone sometime in the past, but the result—I can’t find my phone—is still true now.
- The cat’s been sick on the couch! -> The cat was sick on the couch in the past, but the result—the sofa needs cleaning—is still true now.
You can also see something useful in these dialogues: often, you start a conversation using the present perfect, and then switch to the past simple.
- I’ve eaten too many cakes. -> How many did you have?
- I’ve lost my phone. -> When did you last use it?
This is a very common pattern in English conversations.
Again, let’s compare the present perfect to the past simple:
- I’ve lost my phone. -> I can’t find it now.
- I lost my phone. -> Maybe I found it again, or maybe I gave up and had to get a new phone. This sentence only tells you about the past, so you can’t be sure what happened.
- The cat’s been sick on the couch! -> The couch needs cleaning, and maybe the cat needs to go to the vet.
- The cat was sick on the couch. -> It’s safe to sit on the couch again.
Now, you know the most common ways to use the present perfect tense in English.
Thanks for watching!