English tenses can be very confusing, but they’re very important because getting them wrong can result in misunderstanding. Verb tenses tell you when something happens, which is simple when we’re just referring to past, present, and future. However, when we’re linking the past with the present by using present perfect, then we may wonder if we can use “yesterday.”
We cannot use “yesterday” on its own with the present perfect tense because adverbs that refer to a completed time in the past only work with past tenses. However, you can use “since yesterday” in the present perfect tense because that expresses a time period that started yesterday and is still continuing.
This article will explore the present perfect tense and how we should use it. We’ll examine the difference between “yesterday” and “since yesterday” and why we treat them differently. We’ll also consider what tenses we can use with “yesterday” and why.
What Is the Present Perfect?
English has three basic tenses — past, present, and future — and then those three have the perfect, continuous, and perfect continuous forms. Let’s consider the verb “to eat” in each of these tenses to illustrate the point.
|Present simple||I eat breakfast every day.|
|Past simple||I ate breakfast yesterday.|
|Future simple||I will eat breakfast tomorrow.|
|Present continuous||I am eating breakfast now.|
|Past continuous||I was eating breakfast when the mail arrived.|
|Future continuous||I will be eating breakfast when you arrive.|
|Present perfect||I have eaten breakfast every day this week.|
|Past perfect||I had eaten breakfast before she arrived.|
|Future perfect||I will have eaten breakfast by the time you arrive.|
|Present perfect continuous||I have been eating breakfast most days.|
|Past perfect continuous||I had been eating breakfast for a while before I saw him.|
|Future perfect continuous||I will have been eating breakfast for a while by then.|
We use the perfect tenses to describe an action that has been absolutely completed or perfected. This is called the “perfect aspect” (source). To create the present perfect, we add “has” or “have” to the past participle of the verb.
English speakers use the present perfect tense often, and it has three main uses, as we’ve illustrated in the table below (source).
Actions that started in the past and are continuing:
- She has lived in Australia for 10 years.
- Jack has worked in advertising since 2004.
Actions that happened at an unspecified time in the past:
- They have visited the museum many times.
- Maggie has already finished that book.
Actions that happened in the past but have an effect on the present:
- How will we get there? Andrew has lost his car keys.
- Jane can’t walk. She has broken her ankle.
What About “Yesterday”?
We can use “yesterday” as an adverb or a noun to describe the day before today, or, in some contexts, it can mean just a short time ago (source). Consider the sentences below that illustrate these definitions.
- I had a ballet exam yesterday. (adverb, day before today)
- I went to that restaurant yesterday. (adverb, day before today)
- I wasn’t born yesterday. (adverb, a short time ago)
- It feels like yesterday that you were at school. (adverb, a short time ago)
- Yesterday was Tuesday. (noun, day before today)
- I’m not interested in yesterday’s news. (noun, a short time ago)
You will notice that whether we are referring specifically to the day before today or, more generally, to a time period in the past, the concept of “yesterday” is a completed period that has already happened.
Which Tense Is Used With “Yesterday”?
Since “yesterday” refers to a time period that is past, it would be logical to assume that we must use it in the past tense. Using our original verb “to eat,” let’s consider which verbs we can use with “yesterday.”
|Past simple||I ate breakfast yesterday.|
|Past continuous||I was eating breakfast yesterday when the mail arrived.|
|Past perfect||I had eaten breakfast before she arrived yesterday.|
|Past perfect continuous||I had been eating breakfast yesterday before I saw him.|
Is “Yesterday” Past Simple or Present Perfect?
As you will have noticed, we can use all four past tenses with “yesterday” but none of the present or future tenses. This is because “yesterday” is an expression of time that occurs entirely in the past and doesn’t include the present.
We can always use past simple — or any other past tense — with “yesterday” because it refers to the day before today, which is very clearly something that occurred in the past. Other expressions of time that only work in the past include:
- Last year
- Last week
- An hour ago
- A long time ago
All of these can function in the past tenses but cannot work in any other tenses. We sometimes see someone use them incorrectly in the present perfect tense, and we need to recognize the error. Consider the following sentences, which show the incorrect use of “yesterday” in the present perfect tense.
- I have done my homework yesterday.
- Yesterday, Jane has invited me to the dance.
- They have finished the job yesterday.
None of these sentences make sense, and we need to rewrite them in the past simple:
- I did my homework yesterday.
- Yesterday, Jane invited me to the dance.
- They finished the job yesterday.
With more context, we could also rewrite them in the other past tenses:
|Past continuous||Past perfect||Past perfect continuous|
|I was doing my homework yesterday when the fire started.||I had done my homework yesterday before the fire started.||I had been doing my homework for two hours yesterday when the fire started.|
More on Perfect Tenses
We use the various tenses to express when something happened, and we use aspect to determine whether we are simply expressing a fact or whether the action is completed or ongoing.
The simple tenses are by definition simple — they just express a fact:
- Jack drinks a soda.
- Jack drank a soda.
- Jack will drink a soda.
However, we use the perfect tenses to illustrate various connections in time. As we’ve already mentioned, the present perfect and present perfect continuous connect the past with the present.
Past perfect and past perfect continuous connect two different times in the past. Meanwhile, the future perfect and future perfect continuous connect an action with the future.
The perfect tenses focus on the completed action, while the perfect continuous tenses focus on that action continuing.
|Present perfect||Jack has drunk a soda.|
|Present perfect continuous||Jack has been drinking a soda.|
|Past perfect||Jack had drunk a soda before he left yesterday.|
|Past perfect continuous||Jack had been drinking a soda before he left yesterday.|
|Future perfect||Jack will have drunk a soda before you arrive.|
|Future perfect continuous||Jack will have been drinking a soda before you arrive.|
We use the present perfect tenses most often. Usually, we use them to talk about something we have done in the past that is still relevant today. When you’re introducing yourself or telling someone about your past, you will use these tenses extensively.
We don’t use the past perfect tenses quite as often, but they are still very useful. You will use this tense when telling stories because it helps to differentiate between various times in the past. We can use it to connect two past actions or to connect a past action with a past time. This is why we use this tense with “yesterday.”
We use the future perfect tenses least often, but they’re still useful when talking about plans or goals. You may use this tense to talk about what will have to be completed before a specific future time.
Can We Use “Since Yesterday”?
Since yesterday is an acceptable phrase. If we add “since” to create the phrase “since yesterday,” we are dealing with a different time expression. “Since” means from a time in the past until now, so “since yesterday” means from the day before today until now (source).
In this case, “since yesterday” doesn’t only occur in the past. It links the present with the past, so we can use it in the present perfect tense. Consider the sentences below.
- I’ve been studying since yesterday.
- I haven’t seen her since yesterday afternoon.
- Mr. Smith has been painting his house non-stop since yesterday.
We use “since” to express time, and it can work as an adverb, preposition, or conjunction, depending on how we position it in a sentence.
As a preposition, we follow “since” with a noun:
- I haven’t been this fit since 2004.
As an adverb, we do not follow “since” with a noun:
- Jack left last October and hasn’t been home since.
As a conjunction, it connects two clauses:
- Jill has had many boyfriends since her relationship ended.
As an expression of time, “since” means either:
- From a time in the past up until the present
- From a time in the past until another time in the past
From a time in the past up until the present
In the first instance, when constructing a sentence using “since,” we will always use the present perfect tense in the main clause. However, after “since,” we can either use present perfect to describe the time from the past up until the present or simple past tense to describe the time from the past up until another point in the past.
Consider the examples below that illustrate these two possibilities.
Using present perfect after “since” to describe the time from the past up until the present:
- Jack has improved his times since he has started training daily.
- I have been feeling better since I’ve been taking the correct medication.
Using simple past after “since” to describe the time from the past up until another point in the past:
- Jack has improved his times since he started training daily.
- I have been feeling significantly better since I began taking the correct medication.
From a time in the past until another time in the past
In the second instance, we most often use past perfect tense in the main clause and past simple after “since.” Consider the examples below:
Sally’s death was devastating. I had been friends with her since we started school in 1980.
I didn’t know you had been working on that since we opened the business last year.
Sometimes, we use past perfect tense in the main clause and again after “since,” as we’ve shown below.
- It had been more than a decade since I had asked anyone on a date.
It’s important to remember that “since” is an expression of time in the past. Therefore, we can never use it to describe present or future time.
What About “Ever Since”?
We use “ever since” in two ways, as we’ve illustrated below. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
To talk about something that happened regularly from a time in the past up until now:
- She saw her first ballet at six and has wanted to be a dancer ever since.
- Bob first went to London in 1982 and has been visiting annually ever since.
To talk about something that happened continually from a specific time in the past:
- She has wanted to be a dancer ever since she was a young girl.
- Bob has been visiting London annually ever since his first visit in 1982.
English tenses can trip you up, especially if you overthink them. When saying “yesterday,” it’s useful to remember that because it refers to the day before today, we can only use it to talk about an action that has occurred in the past.
Thus, you would always use one of the past tenses — past simple, past continuous, past perfect, or past perfect continuous — with “yesterday.”
The present perfect tense has to have a link to the present and, therefore, cannot work together with “yesterday.” However, a word like “since” can work to create the link to the present, so we can use “since yesterday” with the present perfect tense.