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Why Do We Call It Present Perfect?

The present perfect tense is contradictory by nature. It uses present tenses to indicate something is happening at the moment. But, it also uses past participles, which shift events to a time frame that has passed. 

We call it the present perfect tense because it uses present verb tenses, specifically “has” or “have,” depending on the noun/subject, followed by a past participle. Past participles usually include -ed, but their usage in the present perfect tense can vary. The tense is “perfect” because it indicates a recently completed (perfected) action or one that continues with consequences for the present.

“I have read this article” is quite different from “I read this article.” To understand the differences between these various forms of the present tense, read on.

What is Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense consists of the auxiliary verb “have” or “has,” followed by the past participle form of the verb. The past participle can also be regular or irregular (source). The present perfect tense has a similar creation process to other perfect tense forms. The present perfect tense indicates that an event took place in the past and was either completed then or has the potential to continue or repeat into the present. 

Why is Present Perfect Tense in the Past?

By using the present perfect tense, you are indicating that the event occurred recently. The event or state began in the past and either ended recently or continued into the present (source). The present perfect tense is about providing information to aid in clarity. 

If you find yourself confused between regular past tense and past participles, read “Eaten or Ate: Past Tense vs. Past Participle.” Past participles can be tricky, especially with irregular verb forms.

Present Perfect Tense Examples

  • I have baked an amazing cake.
  • She has been to my house.
  • William has welcomed us into his home.

All of the above sentences are in the present perfect tense. We can see this through the use of the auxiliary verbs “have” and “has” and by the past participle forms of the verbs “bake,” “be,” and “welcome.”

In the first sentence, the speaker indicates that they recently baked a wonderful cake. This is different from the past simple “I baked a cake,” which doesn’t specify when the speaker baked the cake.

Similarly, in the second sentence, the speaker informs us about someone who came to their house. Presented in the simple past tense, “she came to my house” indicates that it happened in the past but doesn’t indicate that the action was completed. 

Present perfect implies that the person came to the house and left, while past simple doesn’t specify if the guest left or has decided to remain indefinitely. 

In the third sentence, William showed his hospitality and welcomed people into the house. Since this is in the present perfect tense, the action starts in the past and continues to the present as William’s welcome has not stopped.

However, there can be some overlap of the present perfect and past perfect tense.

Present Perfect Tense Compared to Past Perfect Tense

The main difference between the present and past perfect tense is understanding when the action starts and finishes.

With the present perfect tense, the action may begin in the past and continue until the present. With the past perfect tense, the action starts in the past and finishes in the past. The main difference between the tenses is the use of auxiliary verbs (source).  

Present perfect tense uses “have” and “has” as auxiliary verbs followed by the past participle. Past perfect tense uses “had” and the past participle. This makes minor but nuanced differences to the meaning and perspective of the sentence.

Example sentences:

  • Caroline has invited over her friends.
  • Caroline had invited over her friends.

In the two sentences, the subject (Caroline) invited some friends over. In the first example, which is the present perfect tense, she asked her friends in the past, and they could still be visiting her.

In the second sentence, which is the past perfect tense, Caroline invited her friends in the past, concluding the event. Let’s examine another example.

  • Kitty has dreamt the same dream for years.
  • Kitty had dreamt the same dream for years.

Once again, the present perfect tense indicates the event could still be happening — as in, Kitty will continue having the same dream. In contrast, the past perfect tense has suggested that the event has stopped or does not continue into the present and won’t happen again either.

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Present Tenses

We’ve covered the present perfect tense, but it’s also essential to understand how to use the other present tense forms, including present simple and present continuous.

Present Simple Tense

Present simple tense lives up to its name and is the simplest way of indicating that an event is taking place at this current time.

Example sentences:

  • I feel like crying.
  • Jane is in love with Charles, even though his sisters don’t like her.
  • I hate the rain!

You will need the verb’s present form (in red above) for the present simple tense, which is generally the root word. You can also include an -s or -es after the verb if you need. It also does not require any time markers as the idea is that the event is taking place. 

Example sentences:

  • Charles cooks well.
  • The boy writes the list down to remember what to buy.
  • Elizabeth smiles at her sister wryly.

Even with the additional -s, the sentences are still in the present simple form. You can also use present simple forms to talk about events that happen habitually or often.

Example sentences:

  • Georgiana practices her piano every day.
  • I go to Singapore every year.
  • I run every morning, rain or shine.

You can use the present simple tense very often in writing, and it is the easiest way to indicate that something is happening right now. However, there may be situations where you need to suggest that the event is happening even as we speak or read. 

Present Continuous Tense

You can use present continuous tense, which we sometimes refer to as the present progressive tense, to indicate that an event is occurring at that moment and may continue into the future.

The easiest way to form continuous tenses is by adding “is” or “are” after the subject and then adding -ing to the root form of the verb, which often includes the doubling of the last consonant if needed. 

Example sentences:

  • Mary is playing the piano badly.
  • She is flirting with the soldiers, hoping they will notice her.
  • They are dying to go to bed, but the guests aren’t leaving.

You can use present continuous tense to add action to a scene, especially when you need to create drama or provide a lot of natural movement of characters. Present continuous tense adds an immediacy to your writing, which is distinct from the present simple or perfect tense.

Comparing Simple, Continuous, and Perfect Present Tense

Since you can present similar information differently, it is crucial to understand why a specific tense is necessary.

Present Simple TensePresent Continuous TensePresent Perfect Tense
I eat the food put in front of me.I am eating the food put in front of me.I have just eaten the food placed in front of me.
They walk in without a care in the world.They are walking in without a care in the world.They have walked in without a care in the world.
George sleeps in every morning because he works from home.George is sleeping in every morning because he is working from home.George has slept in every morning because he works from home.

As you can see from the previous examples, all of these sentences mean the same thing, but the moment of the event changes slightly for each one.

The present simple tense indicates that an event is happening now but does not indicate for how long it continues. In contrast, present continuous tense shows that an event occurs through the moment and continues after that.

Finally, the present perfect tense shows that an event started in the past and ended in the past with the usage of the past participle, but it also indicates that it could continue or repeat in the present.

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When to Use Present Perfect Tense

You would use the present perfect tense when a process has started and continues into the present moment or when an action has started and finished, but the time frame has not necessarily ended.

By adding in time markers, it’s easier to show that the period has not finished for that situation. However, you can also indicate time without it. 

Example sentences:

  • I have been to Derbyshire five times.
  • Charlotte has baked 25 cupcakes today.
  • Lucas has fixed my car twice this month!

In all of these sentences, the action has finished. Namely, the subject has finished their trip to Derbyshire, Charlotte has completed her baking, and Lucas has finished the repairs on the car.

What stands out here is that the time has not ended. Even though the subject has been to Derbyshire five times already, there is still time in their life to go again. Similarly, the day has not ended in the second sentence, and Charlotte may want to bake more.

The month has not ended in Lucas’ life either, and he may have to fix the subject’s car again. So all of these examples show the ending of an action but still leave the possibility of the action happening again in that period.

Present Perfect Tense and Time

To understand exactly when to use present perfect tense, you need to be particular about when the action took place and whether it ended within a specific period. 

Present perfect tense does not require you to be doing the action at the particular moment of writing. But it does require that the event should have already started and possibly been completed. 

Let’s examine a possible scenario: Your friend asked you if you’ve been watching the latest binge-worthy show on Netflix, and you have. 

Since you have already started this action and plan to continue it, you’ll use the present perfect tense to write the sentence because the show is excellent. “I have watched seven episodes already.”

By using “have,” you’re indicating that the event has started, and by using “watched,” you’re suggesting that you’ve completed those seven episodes. But the specific use of present perfect tense indicates that you will also continue watching.

Knowing when to use present perfect tense is just as important as creating present perfect tense sentences.

Creating Present Perfect Tense

Often, you need to follow specific patterns to create grammatically correct sentences (source).

For positive sentences: 

Follow singular personal pronouns (I and you) with “have” and the past participle form of the verb.

Follow plural pronouns (we and they) with “have” and the past participle form of the verb.

Follow two or more proper nouns with “have” and the past participle.

Follow third-person singular pronouns (he, she, and it) with “has” and the past participle form of the verb. 

When using a proper noun for the subject, you will follow the same pattern as third-person singular; follow the subject with “has” and the past participle.

If you get confused by pronouns and their syntax, read “You and I or You and Me: Understanding the Correct Use of these Pronouns” to obtain a simple and easy-to-remember breakdown. 

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For negative sentences:

Follow singular personal pronouns and plural pronouns, with “have not” or “haven’t” and the past participle form of the verb.

Follow third-person singular pronouns and proper nouns with “has not” or “hasn’t” and the past participle form of the verb.

Final Thoughts

The present perfect tense is an exciting verb form because it overlaps two periods in time, but it is necessary to explain when and how long an event occurred. 

Grammarians call it the present perfect because it deals with an event that has concluded (perfect) but has concluded close to the current time (present). Without it, we won’t know if an event is continuing, has the chance to continue, or whether it concluded without the possibility of repetition.

Now that you have completed this article, you can say, “I have read this article, and I understand how present perfect tense works.”