“Perfect” verb forms

If we want to speak English well, understand English well, write English well it is necessary to find out how to understand English grammar . How we use English verb forms  (tenses) is essential to developing good communication in English.

This is part of a series of master classes about how we use English grammar correctly. I am not going to talk about how we construct the verb form but I want to give the basic concepts of how these grammatical forms are used by native English speakers. To see my advice and guide to how we construct the different English verb forms see  HERE:verb form structures

There is also an interesting article Is English grammar important ? Because you must remember that most native speakers don’t study grammar, they acquire it when the are young.


All perfect verb forms

Present Perfect

Present Perfect Continuous

Past Perfect

Past Perfect Continuous

Future Perfect

Future Perfect Continuous

tell us something about an action, series of events or a situation that happened before a certain time:

The Present Perfect

tells us about an action, series of events or situation that happened before the Present

For example:

I have lived in Hong Kong since 2007 (I started living in HK in 2007, and I live there now)

Mary has seen the film “Gone with the Wind” more than 25 times (25 times in her life and she is not dead)

It is very important to remember that the present perfect cannot be used with an expression of  finished time (yesterday, last week, in 1997 etc). It is used to refer to something in the past that effects or tells us something about the present:

“John has worked in New York for seven years” tells us that John now works in New York and has 7 years of experience working there.

“Woody Allen has directed more than 50 films”  ….. what does this tell us? The important question to ask is “when?” In this case the answer is: in his life until now

We can contrast this with “Alfred Hitchcock directed about sixty films” … in this case if we ask “when?” the answer is:  in his life until he died. Referring to Hitchcock we use the Past Simple and not the Present Perfect because the time, in this situation Hitchcock’s life, is finished.

One use of the Present Perfect that causes problems for speakers of certain languages is with sentences such as:

I have known Emily for three years (I first met Emily 3 years ago and I know her now)

I have had my car since last year (I bought my car last year and I have the car now)

Both of these sentences refer to a situation that started in the past and continues to the present. The present perfect is the verb form to use here because it is the link, the connection between the past and the present. We cannot use the Present simple in these situations because the Present simple talks about general, usual, habitual situations. 

3 uses of the Perfect


 a I have lived in London since 1987 (Present perfect simple)

b Fred has been to Paris three times  (Present perfect simple, third person singular)

c By 2015 Mary will have finished her medical studies  (Future perfect simple)


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