Past and Present Perfect Tense Use

The present perfect tense and the past perfect are both important ways to show time sequence (the order in which things happened) in the past. The simple past describes what happened completely in the past. We use the past perfect when we want to show something that happened before something else in the past: “He had already finished dinner when his friend arrived.” (‘Had finished’ is past perfect; ‘arrived’ is simple past.) 

a woman studying a book in class
a woman studying a book in class

We use the present perfect tense, on the other hand, when something that began in the past continues into the present, or is an ongoing truth.

The perfect tenses are formed using a form of the verb ‘have’ with the past participle of the main verb. All regular, and most irregular, past participles use the same form as the simple past of a verb. For irregular simple past forms and their past participles, see Past Tense Irregular Verbs. See also Irregular Past Participles for a list of those that are different from the simple past.

Both present and past perfect can also be continuous (‘have’ + past participle of ‘be’ + present participle of the main verb: has been cooking, had been going, haven’t been studying, etc.), and the present perfect can also be used with modal verbs (could have worked, can’t have gone, might have cooked, will have been, would have felt, should have been studying, etc.)

Maybe you’ve heard something that sounded like ‘wouda, (or woul-ov) couda/ov, or shoulda/ov.’ That’s how we normally pronounce ‘would have,’ ‘could have,’ and ‘should have.’ (The ‘a’ or ‘ov/of’ sound is “reduced”-- pronounced softly and fast-- because we don’t stress that syllable. So “I would have gone if I could have” sounds like ‘I wouda gone if I coud of.’

The present perfect tense (as well as the past perfect) is often used with ‘for’ a certain time or ‘since’ a date:

·       He has been sick for two weeks.

·       He has been sick since last Wednesday.

·       The author has felt strongly about educational opportunities since she taught in a school in a poor neighborhood.

·       They have been studying English since 2006, but they still haven’t become fluent.

·       “How long have you worked in the sales department?”

·       “I’ve been in sales for two years, but I’ve only worked directly with customers for the last six months.”

·       “That’s interesting. My friend had been in sales for just two weeks before his company left him on the sales floor by himself.”

Try Using the Present Perfect Tense
(& the Past Perfect) in this Exercise

Fill in the blanks using has, have, ‘ve, or had:

“_____ you always been interested in baseball? “

“I’_____ been a fan since I was able to watch it on my Dad’s lap! What about you?”

[ _______n’t really gotten into baseball, but I’____ always loved classical guitar. My brother taught me to play. He _____n’t ever studied professionally, but you’d think he had if you heard him.


Matt _____ studied very hard for the GRE exam, but he still doesn’t feel confident. Some of his friends  who ______ already taken it ______ told him it was a lot harder than they expected. They said they ______ expected more questions based on what they _____ already studied. They were surprised to find many questions in which they had to analyze situations that were unfamiliar to them.

Check your answers.

If you would like more fill-in and reading practice with the past or present perfect tense, go to Present and Past Perfect Tense Practice.

Go to Irregular Past Participles for examples and a list of all the common past participles that are different from their simple past forms. 

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