Mention this tense to any English language learner and they will squirm! Mention it to teachers and there will be much heavy breathing! So, what is the problem?
It is a tense that features heavily in everyday English, it behaves differently in English to other languages (remember the false friends?) and its usage is not always logical! As teachers we know why you need the present perfect but it is sometimes a matter of perception and this is not always obvious to learners.
Even though most advanced learners have the rules nailed down, the ability to use it faultlessly doesn’t always follow so I thought I’d do a little recap of the rules and some tips on usage to act as a reminder and guide.
The Present Perfect
Rule: auxiliary to have + past participle, simple and continuous forms
Meaning: actions or states which start in the past but have a link with the present in some way
Used for: talking about experiences, talking about the recent past, talking about actions with present relevance, talking about ongoing/unfinished states or actions
- Talking about experience – I’ve worked as a waitress, a postman and a teacher.
- Talking about the recent past – Have you seen Molly? She’s just driven off!
- Talking about actions with present relevance – What have you done to your arm?
- Talking about unfinished or ongoing states or actions – They’ve been living in that house for 20 years!
Remember to think of the present perfect as a present tense and not a past tense. We are looking at the past with ‘present eyes’ and whatever we talk about relates to now:
- I’ve been to Vietnam. really means – I have seen the country and can tell you about it now, when, where, how or why I went and visited are not important it’s my experience of it now which is important.
- You’ve just missed him! really means – If you’d been here a few minutes earlier you would have seen him. When he went, why and the fact that it happened in the past are irrelevant, coming here now is simply too late!
- You’ve cut your hair! really means – I’ve just seen it now, I don’t really care when, why or how it was done. The impact for me is now.
- I’ve been studying English for 15 years. really means – It’s been a long time and it may go on, aren’t you impressed – now! or something like that.
You can find more examples in your grammar book or course book. If you need more clarification why not post a questions here and I’ll do my best to answer it.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the differences between the continuous and simple forms of the present perfect tense.