Learn to Love the Present Perfect in English

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

ESL Present Perfect

The present perfect is a very useful verb tense because it provides meanings and uses that aren't available with the simple past tense. Some ESL learners might try to avoid it (those dang past participles!), but it’s your friend.

How to Form the Present Perfect

FORMATION = have/has + past participle

As you might already know, your use of has or have depends on the subject.


He has gone too far.

They have studied English for years.

The trickier part is the past participles. The past participles are almost always the third column of any English verb chart that you see. The regular verbs add -ed. The irregular verbs are trickier. I suggest you review a few at a time from a comprehensive list like this one from ESL Desk.

When Do You Use the Present Perfect?

1. For an action that began in the past and is still true today

EXAMPLE: I have lived in Houston for 14 years.

2. For an action that happened in the past but the time is not specified

EXAMPLE: Loretta has visited China three times.

3. To describe your experience

EXAMPLE: I have taught English for several years.

The Use of the Words Ever and Never

The word ever doesn’t have much meaning by itself, but it is used as a “flavor” word (meaning it adds a nuance to the sentence) when asking a question. Use the word ever when asking another person if he or she has had a specific experience at any point in time in his/her life.

EXAMPLE: Have you ever been to Egypt?

Use never when responding to that question or when making a statement.

EXAMPLE: No, I have never been to Egypt.

The Use of For and Since

When do you use for and when do you use since? I get this question a lot, and it's a great one.

For is for a specific length of time.

EXAMPLE: Martin and I have been married for 15 years.

Since is from a specific point in time.

EXAMPLE: Martin and I have been married since 2003.

Now, Let’s Practice

Can you create a real-life example for each of these uses?

Once you have done that, I encourage you to either record your sentences using the voice memo on your phone or use them with a real person! Whatever you do, speak the words out loud. This reinforces the pattern in your mind!

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