Grammar Present Perfect Tense |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Present Perfect Tense

The English language has three verb tenses to indicate the time an action took place: present, past, and future. Each tense is then further categorized as simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive, resulting in twelve total tenses. In this discussion, we’ll review the present perfect tense.

The present perfect is used to communicate occurrences or experiences either completed or not completed in the past with a relation to the present. To form the present perfect tense, we join the present-tense auxiliary verb has or have to the past participle of a verb. This pairing connects the past with the present.

I have (present auxiliary) run (past participle) a marathon.

He has (present auxiliary) not run (past participle) a marathon.

They have (present auxiliary) been (past participle) to Madagascar.

She has (present auxiliary) not been (past participle) to Madagascar.

Note the statements’ open-ended nature. Although each describes a past event, it does not imply a conclusion; something has been done, and it could take place again.

The Present Perfect Tense: Passive Voice

The passive voice of the present perfect tense is formed with the present-tense auxiliary verb has or have, the past particle of be (been), and the past participle of a verb.

The proposal has been reviewed by the committee.

Eric and Evelyn have been visited by their children.

The Present Perfect Tense: Time of Occurrence

The exact time in the past is irrelevant in the present perfect tense, so we do not use it with specific references such as yesterday, last month, and when I was young. We do use the present perfect with unspecific time references such as before, once, and often.

Incorrect: I have played the guitar when I was young.
Correct: I have played the guitar before.

The occurrence or experience referred to in the present perfect may have happened recurrently or just one time. Some statements using the present perfect might also leave the frequency unanswered or open to interpretation.

We have always visited Grandma Coleman in August. (One can infer this happens often and continues into the present.)

Emma has reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro once. (The number of trips to the top is clear.)

Anita has sung at the Civic Opera House. (She may have sung several times or once.)

Because the present perfect connects the past with an open-ended present, the tense in a subordinate clause remains in the present.

Has the attorney stated that the plea deal is (not was) non-negotiable?

The Navarros have expressed which type of flooring they want (not wanted).


Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, answer whether the present perfect tense is used correctly in each sentence.

1. Joseph has won the award when he was in high school. [Yes / No]

2. The painters have painted the wall with several coats. [Yes / No]

3. The director has made two movies last year. [Yes / No]

4. Maria has often been encouraged to set new goals at work. [Yes / No]


Pop Quiz Answers

1. No

2. Yes

3. No

4. Yes

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

3 responses to “Present Perfect Tense”

  1. Sahejahan Maunhoo says:

    That was very clear and understandable with examples, which makes it easier to understand.

  2. Brandon says:

    The present perfect tense is often defined in the following way:
    “An action that began in the past and is still occurring in the present.”
    This definition, however, is giving me some trouble with examples like the following:
    John and Martha have eaten dinner.
    If someone could provide me with some clarification and a better definition, that would be great.

    • says:

      Your example sentence reflects the present perfect tense, which is a completed occurrence that happened once with a subsequent one-time result that could take place again. The definition you provided refers to a sentence written in the present perfect continuous tense, which is a completed occurrence that happened once with a result that continued in the past and could take place again. We may address this further as a newsletter topic in 2023.
      For additional insight, you can review our post Clarifying the Conditional Tense

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