Grammar Guide – Present Perfect Simple
Present Perfect Simple
The Present Perfect Tense is normally used to talk about things that happened at some time in the past but when we don’t say when they happened. We often use it to introduce information at the start of a conversation (I have been to America), to talk about something that happened in the past that affects the present (I have broken my arm) and to talk about something that began in the past and is still true today (I have played the violin since I was 10 year old).
- General Principles
- Common time expressions
- For, Since and How long?
- Never and Ever
- Difference between ‘have been to’ and ‘have gone to’
A positive sentence with the present perfect is formed with a subject, ‘have / has’ and a verb past participle.
- I have read this book.
- She has been to Paris.
- I have sent him an email.
We create a negative sentence with the present perfect by adding ‘not’ between ‘have / has’ and the past participle.
- I have not (haven’t) seen him today.
- She has not (hasn’t) arrived yet.
- They haven’t replied to my email.
When we create question with the present perfect we invert the auxiliary ‘have / has’ and the subject. Any question words are placed before the auxiliary.
- Have you read this book about Shakespeare?
- Has she gone to the supermarket?
- Where have you put my keys?
- Why haven’t you shaved today?
The present perfect can be used for the following purposes:
- To describe an action or state which began in the past and continues in the present.
- To describe an action which finished in the very recent past. (Often with ‘just’)
- To describe an action which finished in the unspecified past and is of interest at the time of speaking.
- To describe an action which finished in the past if we don’t specify when, or in unfinished time. We often do this when we introduce new information during a conversation.
- To talk about events or actions that have not happened until the time of speaking.
- She has lived in Paris for 6 years. – (The state began in the past and is still true in the present)
- I’ve just finished work and now I am going to the bar! – (I recently finished work)
- Paul isn’t coming to work today because he has broken his arm. – (He broke his arm recently, and this is of interest now)
- I have been to Barcelona, Milan and Athens, but London is my favourite city. – (I don’t say when I visited these places)
- I haven’t been to this restaurant before. – (This action did not happen in the past)
The present perfect tense can never be used if it includes a finished past time (for example ‘yesterday’ or ‘last year’). The present perfect can only be used when there is no time reference or when the time referred to includes the present time (for example ‘today’ or ‘this year’). Also, we never use present perfect in questions or sentences with ‘when’.
Common time expressions
There are many time expressions which are frequently used with the Present Perfect:
- just – (to say that something happened a short time before)
- yet – (in negative statements to say that something has not happened until now, or in questions)
- never – (with a positive verb form, to say that something has not happened before)
- already – (normally in positive statements, to say that something has happened earlier than expected)
- ever – (usually in questions, to ask if something has happened before the time of speaking)
- so far – (meaning ‘until now’)
- up to now – (meaning ‘until now’)
- recently – (meaning an unspecified time in the recent past)
- since – (to identify the start of a period of time which continues in the present)
- for – (to talk about the duration of an action or state – with present perfect this period must include the present)
For… Since… How long…?
We often use the words ‘since…’ ‘for….’ and ‘how long….’ with the present perfect.
‘For’ is used to describe a period of time which started in the past and includes the present.
‘Since’ describes the time when an activity or state began, which extends to the present.
‘How long’ is used to ask about the length of a period of time.
- I have lived here for three years.
- He hasn’t had a job since 2007.
- How long have you been a teacher?
Never – Ever
The words ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are used with the present perfect to talk about things that have not happened, or to ask if things have happened.
- ‘Never’ is used in statements with positive verb forms and means ‘not in my life…’ Note; ‘never’ replaces ‘not’ and the two words must not be used together.
- ‘Ever’ can used in questions (usually with a positive verb) and means ‘in your life..?’
‘Never’ is placed between the auxiliary ‘have’ and the verb past participle.
In questions, ‘Ever’ is placed between the subject and the past participle.
- I have never ridden a horse.
- She has never read a book by Shakespeare.
- They have never been to America.
- Have you ever travelled in a helicopter?
- Has she ever ridden a horse?
- Have they ever been to America?
‘has been to’ and ‘has gone to’
We use ‘Has /have gone to’ to talk about another person or people who have left one place and travelled to another place (so this person or these people are not here now). ‘Has gone’ is never used to refer to the place where we are, and is not used in the first person (i.e. not: ‘I have gone to the cinema’)
- Susan has gone to the cinema. = She is in the cinema, or is now travelling to the cinema.
- Martin has gone home. = Martin has left one place (perhaps here) and is either at home or travelling home now.
- Paul has gone to Paris. = He is in Paris or is travelling to Paris now.
We use ‘Have been to’ to talk about places we have visited and returned from at some time in the past.
- Susan has been to the cinema. (She went earlier this evening and now she is at home.)
- Martin has been shopping. (He went shopping earlier and has returned to the place where you are speaking.
- Paul has been to Paris. (He visited Paris at a time in the past and has returned.)