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Can I Use Present Perfect and Past Perfect in the Same Sentence?

Most of us understand the basics of past, present, and future tense. Tenses help show when an event took place. And sometimes, you may need to use more than one tense in a single sentence. 

Present perfect tense and past perfect tense can be used in the same sentence. Present perfect indicates something that happened indefinitely in the past or something that occurred in the past and continues until the present. However, to suggest that something happened in the past but is no longer continuing, you may also need to use past perfect tense.

But there are particular ways to combine present and past tense. To find out more and become an absolute language guru, keep reading.

Using Present Perfect and Past Perfect in One Sentence

The present perfect tense is helpful to show events that started taking place in the past but continue into the current time. In contrast, you use past perfect tense when an event both started and ended in the past.

While it may seem contradictory, there are times when both the past perfect and present perfect tense work in one sentence.

Present perfect tense and past perfect tense have similar construction. Present perfect tense uses the verb “have” followed by the past participle. The past perfect tense uses the verb “had,” but we also follow it with the past participle form.

The perfect tense shows when an action starts and finishes or is “perfected,” giving the reader additional information about the action or event, compared to the simple forms of tenses.

Knowing When to Use Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense is appropriate for several scenarios.

First, the present perfect tense indicates that an event started in the past and continues into the present (source).

Example sentences:

  • I have been a veterinarian for two years now.
  • We have lived here since I was born.

You can also apply this to experiences. The experience generally ends in the past, but the knowledge of the experience continues into the present.

Example sentences:

  • I have played that game before.
  • I’ve wanted this book for years!
  • I have finished my supper.

You can use the adverbs “ever” and “never” in the present perfect tense. You’ll use “ever” to indicate something at any time, compared to “never,” which shows that something is impossible or highly unlikely to happen.

Example sentences:

  • These are the best friends I’ve ever had.
  • I cannot believe that you have never had sushi before!

Present perfect tense can also apply in situations where something took place in the past but is relevant for the current moment.

Example sentences:

  • I don’t need any gas. I have been to the garage already.
  • I want to get this gift for her, but I’ve lost my credit card.

Another variation of present perfect tense involves “has/have been” and “has/have gone.” Confusing these phrases is a common error for non-native English speakers, but it is pretty easy to distinguish between them.

If you have traveled to someplace and returned, the correct form is “has or have been.” In contrast, if you have traveled to a location or event and have not returned, the proper form is “has or have gone.”

Example sentences:

  • Mary has gone to the shops, but I have just been.
  • I have been all over Europe, but Jason has just gone on his tour.

Knowing When to Use Past Perfect Tense 

As we mentioned earlier, the past perfect tense deals with the conclusion of something that happened in the past. The event does not continue into the present. Past perfect differs from present perfect because you will use the verb “had” instead of “has” or “have” combined with the past participle.

While past perfect can also indicate a passing of time, the mentioned event has to stop at some point in the past.

Example SentencesThe Function of Past Perfect Tense
She had lived in New York until her retirement.This indicates that the subject used to live in New York but no longer does.
Marcia and George had been married for 12 years before the car accident.This indicates that the marriage had continued for 12 years and eventually ended.
He had been playing the game for years.This indicates that the event started at a time in the past and could continue until today.
Your wedding was the best one I had ever attended.In this scenario, the wedding was an event that took place in the past and was an experience that stopped at a certain point, like when the wedding ended.
I was late for school because I had missed my bus.The subject missed the bus in the past, but it is essential to know when giving an explanation.
I came to visit you, but you had already left.The subject has already left the area, and it was important to the situation even though the event took place in the past.

Now that we have discovered when to use present perfect and past perfect tense, it’s time to determine when it’s appropriate to use both. 

Knowing When to Use Present Perfect and Past Perfect Together

When you look at the different purposes of present perfect tense and past perfect tense, both deal with an event in the past. The contrast comes into play when it’s essential for your reader or listener to know when the event stopped.

There are situations where you can use the past perfect tense. For a deeper examination of these, read through “Meet or Met: What’s the Difference?” and “Can We Use Past Perfect Alone?

Sometimes, you may be dealing with two separate events and need to indicate that one stopped in the past while the other ones continue into the present.

Example sentences:

  • The food had not been prepared, but I have eaten something else, so I’m not hungry.
  • She has played the game before, but the new version was only released recently.

In these sentences, the past perfect and present perfect tenses tell us when an event took place. 

In the first sentence, the past perfect tense shows that nobody prepared food, but the subject of the second clause (highlighted in purple) ate something else. That action continues into the present as the effects of the food have not yet diminished.

In the second sentence, the present perfect tense comes first, telling us that the subject has the knowledge of playing a specific game from the past that continues into the present. However, there has been a new version released in the recent past, and the subject has not experienced that as yet.

Addition of Adverbs in Tenses

When writing in the past perfect tense, it helps to add a time marker to show when an event took place. This also makes the sentence a little less awkward in phrasing.

Example sentences:

  • Aubrey had not been on a date for a few years, but she has met Terry this year.
  • Simon had broken his PlayStation yesterday, so he has taken it to get repaired.

These two example sentences indicate that an event occurred in the past at a specific point, and both ended then. The second clause shows a secondary event that took place as a direct result of the first event.

Using the present perfect tense in the second clause, we indicate that an event had taken place and its effects continue into the present.

Having two different tenses in a sentence can be awkward, and you should only use the combination for particular scenarios. In most situations, a consistent tense is better.

How Can You Use Present Perfect and Past Perfect? 

As with all grammatical rules, there is a formula for using present perfect and past perfect tenses.

Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense uses “have” or “has,” which the speaker or writer follows with the past participle of the verb (source). 

To show when an event took place and whether it continued to the present is dependent on the type of adverbs you use. Generally, if an event occurred in the past and ended there, the simple past tense is adequate to express that thought.

However, to show an event that started in the past but still continues into the present, the present perfect tense is the best way to express the idea. This tense type allows you to use an adverb of time (source).

Example sentences:

  • I have cleaned up already.
  • We have partied through the night and into the morning.
  • You have been a good friend until today.

With the adverb of time, it becomes easy to show the specific moment that an event continued until its ending. 

Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense uses “had” followed by the past participle of the verb.

In contrast to the simple past tense, which may indicate when an event took place, the past perfect tense tells us that something has taken place in the past without being overly specific.

Simple Past TensePast Perfect Tense
Example SentenceI ate the birthday cake yesterday.I had eaten the birthday cake.
ExplanationThis sentence shows a specific time that an event took place. Even without the adverb of time (yesterday), the sentence indicates that an action occurred in the past.This indicates that the event took place and ended in the past. The precise time is not specific, however.

When using participles, most are just the past tense form of the verb. This makes past tense a straightforward exercise.

You create past participles with the addition of -ed to the end of a verb. For example, “cook” becomes “cooked,” “paint” becomes “painted,” and “type” becomes “typed” (source). However, there are moments where the past participle comes from one of the irregular verbs.

With irregular verbs, you will need to use different forms for the past participle compared to the regular past tense. For example, if you write a sentence using the irregular verb “drink,” the past tense form is “drank,” but the past participle is “drunk.”

Therefore, a grammatically correct sentence using the past perfect tense would be, “He had drunk all the bottles.”

To learn more about when and where to use specific irregular verbs, read “Past Tense of Run: Understanding Regular and Irregular Verb Tenses.”

Image by Brad Neathery via Unsplash

Can You Use the Present Tense and Past Tense in the Same Sentence?

This question is simpler to answer: yes, we can use present and past tense in the same sentence. Similar to present perfect and past perfect tenses, they must indicate what happened previously and what is currently taking place.

Example sentences:

  • I cooked the breakfast food, and the kids are eating it.
  • John paid the deposit, and I’m paying the rent every month.
  • My poor dog passed away, so I only have a cat now.

In the first sentence, the subject speaks about cooking food — an action that happened in the past, but the children are eating the food in the present.

In the second sentence, there are two separate subjects in both clauses. The first subject is “John,” who paid the deposit for some kind of accommodation previously. In contrast, the other subject (“I”) is currently paying the rent for the place.

Finally, the third sentence shows that the subject lost their dog in the past, which means that they only own a cat in the present. 

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As you can see in all of these examples, there are logical reasons to use both present and past tense in a sentence. Compared to past perfect and present perfect tense, the sentences do not feel as clunky or awkward.

Final Thoughts

Tenses are a vital part of grammar, as they give us so much more information about events that take place in the past or the present. Once you understand the present perfect and past perfect tense basics, you can use them together quite quickly.

The main thing to be aware of is what happened first and when each event ended (or didn’t end). Present perfect and past perfect tenses are ideal for conveying these nuances, and your readers will appreciate the added information.