The present perfect tense is an English verb tense used for past actions that are related to or continue into the present. It’s easily recognized by the auxiliary verbs (or helper verbs) have and has, as in, “I have gone fishing since I was a child.”
Of all the English verb tenses, the present perfect is one of the most complicated because there’s not always a direct translation in other languages. So in this guide, we explain everything you need to know to use it perfectly, including how and when to use it, with plenty of present perfect tense examples.
What is present perfect tense?
The present perfect tense is one of the common verb tenses in English, used to show an action that happened in the past that is directly related to the present, such as actions that are still continuing or that indicate a change over time. We cover a complete list of when to use the present perfect tense below.
Don’t let the name confuse you—even though the word present is there, the present perfect tense deals with actions that happened or started in the past. In fact, the present perfect tense is often used interchangeably with the simple past tense, although there are some special situations in which you can only use one or the other, also explained below.
How do you use the present perfect tense?
In the present perfect tense, the main verbs always use the auxiliary verbs (helper verbs) has or have. The main verb takes a participle form, specifically the past participle. The past participle is often the same form as the simple past form of the verb, unless it’s an irregular verb, which each have their own unique past participle form. We explain in more detail how to form them in our guide to participles.
Only the auxiliary verbs are conjugated to fit the subject-verb agreement in the present perfect tense; the past participle of the main verb remains the same no matter what the subject is. Generally, you use have for all subjects except the singular third-person, which instead uses has.
First-person: I have come a long way.
Second person: You have come a long way.
Third-person plural: They have come a long way.
Third-person singular: He/she/it has come a long way.
The present perfect tense has specific constructions for standard statements, negatives, and questions, explained below. We also discuss how to use the present perfect tense with adverbs and with the passive voice.
The present perfect tense for statements
For general statements, the most common use of the present perfect, use have or has plus the past participle form of the main verb.
[have/has] + [past participle]
Charlotte has become friends with Wilbur.
We’ve broken up before, but this time feels different.
The present perfect tense for negatives
To use the present perfect tense in the negative, simply add the negative word (like not or never) after the auxiliary verb but before the past participle.
[have/has] + [negative] + [past participle]
I have not slept well since exams started.
My Midwestern friend has never seen the ocean.
This construction works for neither, nor sentences, too.
It’s 11 in the morning, and she has neither eaten breakfast nor gotten dressed.
Please note that it’s clearest to avoid contractions when using the present perfect tense with the negative, at least in American English.
The present perfect tense for questions
When asking a question in the present perfect tense, the auxiliary verb comes first, followed by the subject, and then the past participle of the main verb. This follows a similar construction as questions with the auxiliary verb do, which also comes before the subject.
[have/has] + [subject] + [past participle]
Have you eaten dinner yet?
Has the party started?
How to use the present perfect tense with adverbs
Although you can still use adverbs after the verb (as you do normally), with the present perfect tense you can also place the adverb between the auxiliary verb and the past participle.
[have/has] + [adverb] + [past participle]
They have gradually advanced their career from cashier to senior manager.
All the guests have already arrived.
Be careful, though. Certain adverbs—especially yet and just—have special rules for where they’re placed. Moreover, because these adverbs relate to time, they’re often used together with the present perfect tense.
The adverb yet, used often with a negative or in questions, almost always comes at the end of a sentence or clause.
Sadly, he hasn’t finished the race yet.
Have you finished your homework yet?
Conversely, the adverb just is always placed between the auxiliary verb and the past participle.
I’ve just woken up.
Their plane has just landed.
How to use the present perfect tense in the passive voice
To use the present perfect tense in the passive voice, use been (the past participle of the verb be) before the past participle of the main verb.
[have/has] + [been] + [past participle]
She has been given an award.
You have just been handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
How to use the present perfect continuous tense
You can also combine the present perfect tense with the present continuous tense to show an ongoing action that started in the past and continues to the present. This hybrid tense is called the present perfect continuous tense. The construction is similar to using the present perfect tense in the passive voice, except that the main verb uses the present participle instead of the past participle.
[have/has] + [been] + [present participle]
She has been seeing a physical therapist since her surgery.
It has been raining all day.
Like all continuous tenses, the present perfect continuous tense can not be used with stative verbs like want, need, love, or hate.
6 examples of when to use the present perfect tense
Knowing when to use the present perfect tense is an important part of English grammar, but it can be confusing even for native English speakers. Below, we explain the six main uses of the present perfect tense, including examples.
An ongoing action that started in the past, but has not yet been completed
This is the main usage of the present perfect tense, which demonstrates the relationship between an action started in the past and its effects on the present.
The professor has taught here for two decades.
They have played piano since the age of three.
Note that you can also use the present perfect continuous tense for this situation, as long as the action has not been completed yet (and it’s not a stative verb). The difference between the present perfect tense and the present perfect continuous tense, in this case, is emphasis:
- The present perfect tense emphasizes the effects or consequences of the action.
- The present perfect continuous tense emphasizes the action itself or the length of time.
So, for example, if you want to plainly say where you live, use the normal present perfect tense.
I’ve lived in Lagos my whole life.
If you want to emphasize how long you’ve been living in a place, use the present perfect continuous tense.
I’ve been living in Lagos my whole life.
What about an action started in the past that has already been completed? For that, you can use the simple past.
She worked there for five years but was fired last week.
A series of the same action completed multiple times in the past, likely to happen again in the future
When the same action has happened a few times already, you can use the present perfect tense if the action will likely happen again in the future. If the action probably won’t happen again, you can use the simple past tense.
I’ve seen the movie six times! [probably will see it again]
I saw the movie six times! [probably will not see it again]
An action that was completed very recently (often used with just or now)
If an action was only completed very recently, you can describe it with the present perfect tense. Even though the action happened in the past, it was so recent that it’s directly connected to the present. These cases usually use adverbs like just or now to show that the action happened not long ago.
I shouldn’t eat anymore because I’ve just brushed my teeth.
We’ve finished practice now, so let’s go home.
A change over time
The present perfect tense is often used to emphasize a change that happened over an extended period of time.
My cousin has grown so much since I saw her two years ago.
Thanks to the many months of playing, I have become an expert at Wordle.
An uncompleted action that is expected to be finished (in the negative)
If an action started in the past but was not completed, you can describe it with the present perfect tense if it’s likely to be completed in the future. This situation uses the negative form to show that the action is still unfinished and often uses the adverb yet.
The jury has not reached a verdict yet.
I haven’t finished my paper, but it’s due in an hour!
To add significance to a completed action
Last, you can use the present perfect tense to make any past action sound more important. The present perfect tense is often used with great achievements or accomplishments, as well as dramatic or rare events. This makes it appropriate for newsworthy events or major life experiences.
Macbeth has killed the king.
I’ve met the love of my life last night!
When not to use the present perfect tense
Now that you know when to use the present perfect tense, let’s talk about when to avoid it.
A lot of times, the difference between the present perfect tense and the simple past tense is a matter of emphasis or whether or not the action is truly finished. However, there’s one rule in particular that should be mentioned: Do not use the present perfect tense with a specific time.
This might be confusing, however, because you can use the present perfect tense with a broad time period. The present perfect tense is only incorrect if used with one specific time. Using the present perfect tense with a general time range is perfectly acceptable.
Present perfect tense FAQs
What is the present perfect tense?
The present perfect tense is an English verb tense used to describe a past action that is related to the present.
How does the present perfect tense work?
The present perfect tense uses the auxiliary verb has or have and the past participle form of the main verb. For example, if you want to use go in the present perfect tense, you say, “I have gone.”
When is the present perfect used?
The present perfect tense is commonly used with events that started in the past and continue into the present. However, it has a few other uses too, including events that happened very recently in the past.