Rules for Using the Present Perfect

Rules for Using the Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is one of the most important grammar tenses in English. We use it very often and in several different situations. If you have a grasp of the present perfect, you can express time more precisely.

Form: have/has + past participle

Unfortunately, it can be hard to learn. Some languages don’t have a similar tense or don’t use it in the same way. And when you’re not able to compare grammar to your own language, it makes it that much harder to learn.

But there is good news: because the present perfect is such a common and important tense, once you learn it, your fluency increases. You are able to understand and express time more accurately.

Rules for Using the Present Perfect

1. Unspecified Time Before Now

One of the most common uses is to express an unspecified time before now. This time may be unknown or unimportant. You can’t use the present perfect to express a specific time in the past.

Yesterday I have been there.” (incorrect)

“She has worked here one year ago.” (incorrect)

Time expressions such as ago, yesterday, last year, that day, and so forth don’t work with the present perfect because they indicate an exact time in the past.

We can use the present perfect with time expressions such as already, yet, ever, never, many times, and so on, as these indicate that things happened (or didn’t happen) at a non-specific time in the past.

2. Started in the Past and Continues

Another common use is to express an action that began in the past but still continues now.

“I have worked at this company for two years.”

“He has known her since July.”

In the first example, the person started working at the company two years ago and is still working there. In the second sentence, he met her in July, and it’s several months later and he still knows her.

With this use of the present perfect, we often use the time expressions for and since to help us explain the amount of time that something has or hasn’t been happening.

For is used with a period of time such as 11 months, 2 hours, one day, etc.

“We have known each other for 18 years.”

Since is followed by a specific point of time.

“He has played the guitar since he was five.”

“We have owned the house since September.”

In other words, he started playing the guitar when he was five years old and still plays it, and they bought the house in September and still own it now.

Study these rules and you’ll become a present perfect master before you know it!