building blocksPresent Perfect: Uses


The present perfect tense is common in English. It is used for many different functions. This page will explain the most important uses of the present perfect tense.

1. Actions which started in the past and are still continuing

The present perfect is often used for an action that started at some time in the past and is still continuing now. In this case, the words for (with a length or period of time) and since (with a specific starting time) are usually used with the present perfect.
  •     He has lived in Canada for five years.  (He started living in Canada five years ago, and he's still living there now.)

  •     She has worked at the University since 1994.  (She started working at the University in 1994, and she's working there now.)

2. Actions (single action or repeated actions) which happened at some unknown time in the past

We can use the present perfect to say that something happened (or didn't happen), but it's not important (or not known) when it happened.  In this case, we often use the words already, (not) yet, ever or never along with the present perfect. These words usually go in front of the past participle.
  •     I've already seen that film. I don't want to see it again.  (It doesn't matter when I saw it.)

  •     Have you ever been to Germany?  (It doesn't matter when you went — I just want to know whether you have been there or not.)

  •      They have eaten at that restaurant many times.  (Repeated past actions;  when they ate there isn't important)

3. Actions which happened in the past, but have an effect in the present

This use is a little more difficult than the other two. In this case, the action happened at some time in the past, but the effect of the action is still important now. It's easiest to understand this use if we compare present perfect sentences with simple past sentences.
Tense Sentence Meaning
Present Perfect I've lost my keys. I don't have the keys. They are still missing.
**Simple Past I lost my keys yesterday. I didn't have them yesterday, but maybe today I found them.
Present Perfect She's broken her arm. The arm is still injured.
**Simple Past She broke her arm. The arm is probably OK now.