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How Do You Form the Present Perfect Tense?

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Present perfect tense lets us know that an action has happened sometime in the past. We don't know exactly when, but we have a general idea. Present perfect can be used to describe a number of different actions as you will learn in this lesson.

Present Perfect

When using present perfect, you will bring together the present tense of an auxiliary verb and the past participle of the verb. We use present perfect as a way to describe an action that has taken place at a time that is not specified. When the exact time is unimportant, the present perfect tense is the best tense to use because it can refer to it still continuing as well. Be careful though because you do not want to use it with expressions that make the time frame clear like, yesterday, tomorrow, last week, when I was a child. These all indicate a particular and specific time period.

You can use present perfect when you refer to times that are unclear such as: many, several times, never, before, or already. Any expression that leaves the exact time up for debate and describes an action that takes place sometime in the past is just fine.

Looking at examples will help you visualize exactly how to recognize the present perfect tense.

  • I have eaten in that restaurant many times.
  • Many students have traveled to Washington, D.C. while in middle school.
  • Have I walked on this path before?
  • She has visited the Museum of Fine Arts several times.

Present Perfect Functions

In order to really understand how to use present perfect, you can break the use down into topics based on the way it can be used. Let's look at those so it will make it easier for you to understand how to use present perfect.

Life Experience

Keep in mind that present perfect is not used to describe a specific event. In the case of experience, the present perfect will allow you to indicate that you have had or have not had an experience. Using present perfect tense will help you describe your experience more fully and completely. Check out these examples.

  • I have been to New York City.

In this example, we know that you have traveled to NYC, but we don't know if you have been there once or twenty times.

  • I have never traveled to New York City.

In this example, we know that you have never experienced NYC.

The goal here is to show the reader what you have experienced, but to make it clear that you are talking in general terms when it comes to the time frame. All you are saying is that you have experienced something.

Change over Time

Another way we use present perfect tense is to show the reader change over time.

  • My Spanish has improved since my teacher stopped speaking in English.
  • The baby has become more interested in his feet than he was before.
  • My hometown has changed in the years I have been gone.

Accomplishments

We use present perfect tense to describe the accomplishments people have had. Don't forget you can't mention a time.

  • Mary has learned how to ride a horse.
  • Thomas has walked hundreds of miles for charity.
  • Jackie was voted top student in her class.

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