The present perfect is the verb tense which most learners of English have problems with. There is a reason for this, it has so many different uses.

You can use it to talk about an action happened in the past or something which starts in the past and continues up to now. And these are just two of its uses. In fact the present perfect has over 20 different uses. But fortunately for you, it is not necessary to know all of these. Most of these are not commonly used.

However, there are five which are. And to both understand and use this verb tense correctly, you need to know what these are. And in this online exercise you will first learn what these are before doing a test which will make sure you remember them and know how to use them.

The 5 uses of the present perfect

Use 1: An action that begins in the past and still continues

This is one of the two most common uses of the present perfect. It is used when you want to say how long up to now (and probably continuing into the future as well) you have been doing an action (either a continuous or a habitual/frequent action) for. It is often followed by 'for'. 'since' or 'over' and a quantity of time (e.g. I was a boy, 6 months etc...).

For example:

How long have studied English for?
I have lived here for 10 years.
She has played football since she was a very young girl.

Using the present perfect continuous instead

With this use of the present perfect, you can normally (but with some verbs you can't) replace it with the present perfect continuous (e.g. I have been reading) and it has the same meaning. So 'I have been living here for 10 years' means the same thing as 'I have lived here for 10 years'.

Use 2: A finished action in the past that is relevant in some way to the present

This is the other of the two most common uses of the present perfect. It is used when you want to talk about an action which is finished, but is relevant to the present (e.g. a topic you are talking about, something which you have seen or heard etc...).

For example:

Have you ever eaten a frog?
I have read Tolstoy's War and Peace.
I have broken my leg before.

When it is used with this use, you can't say when it happened (e.g. 2 years ago, last year etc...). If you want to say when, you have to use the past simple tense instead of the present perfect.

For example:

I read Tolstoy's War and Peace last year.
I broke my leg 3 years ago.

However, you can say when it happened if you use 'this' in front of the period of time (e.g. morning, week, year etc...) or use today or recently

For example:

Peter: What have you done this morning?
Simon: I have been to the bank.

I have read Tolstoy's War and Peace this year.

Use 3: An action that has finished now or a little before now

This is used to say that an action has finished/been completed very recently (from a couple of hours to moments ago). This use of the present perfect is often used with the word 'just' between the two parts if the action finished now or moments before.

For example:

I have eaten, so I'm not hungry.
How long have you been here? I have just arrived.

Use 4: Repetition of things done up to now

This is similar to use 1 (an action that begins in the past and still continues). However, instead of one action starting and continuing until the present, you want to say how many completed actions (and you always have to say the number or give an approximation) you have done from a point starting in the past until now.

Like with use 1, it is often followed by 'for'. 'since' or 'over', or the period of time you are talking about (e.g. this week, this year etc...) or today/recently.

For example:

She has read 20 books since the start of the year.
We have written nearly 15 emails this morning.

Using the present perfect continuous instead

Unlike use 1, you can't use the present perfect continuous (I have been reading) instead of the present perfect in a sentence with this use and it still has the same meaning. If you do use it, it means that you haven't finished the actions, but are still doing all of them. For example, if you say 'she has been reading 20 books since the start of the year', it means the person is still reading the 20 books (she hasn't finished reading any of them).

Use 5: A past action which has a present consequence

This is similar to use 2 (a finished action in the past that is relevant in some way to the present) in that it talks about a finished action. However, the action was normally done in the recent past (minutes, hours or days before) and the action has directly caused a current situation to happen (e.g. a wallet is gone (the situation) probably because it has been stolen (the finished action which caused it)).

For example:

The TV isn't working, who has broken it?
I don't have the money because I haven't had the time to go to the bank.


How to know which use of present perfect is being used

First of all knowing that there are these different uses of present perfect will help you a lot. But there are two things which will help you to decide which use of the present perfect is being used, and that is the words used with them and the context it is used in..

The words used with them

Certain words are only are used with certain uses. For example, if you see the word 'just' used, then the present perfect must have the use of 'an action that has finished now or a little before now'. Or if the verb is followed by 'for' or 'since', then it will either have the use 'an action that begins in the past and still continues' or 'repetition of things done up to now'.

The context it is used in

The other way that will help you decide which use of the present perfect is being used is through context it is used in. For example, if you are talking to somebody face-to-face in Paris and they say that they have been to London, then logically they are talking about something they did in the past (a finished action in the past that is relevant in some way to the present).

Using both the words which are used with them and the context is how native speakers decide which use is being used of the present perfect, and this is how you will decide what the use is yourself in the future.

The use of the present perfect in the negative can be confusing

You should now be able to identify the main uses of the present perfect when it is used in the positive, however, when it is used in the negative it can be confusing to know what the use is. For example, try to identify which of the 5 above uses of the present perfect is being used in each of the below sentences:

He hasn't eaten meat before.
He hasn't eaten meat since he was 18.

In the first sentence, we are not talking about a continuous or an habitual action for the man, but we are expressing that in the man's life no single instance/action of eating meat has happened. So like saying, 'he has eaten meat before', we are talking about a finished action in the past which is relevant to the present (use 2).

Whereas in the second sentence, we are focusing on the habitual activity of the man not choosing, wanting or having the opportunity to eat meat since a specific time. So in this case, it is an action that starts in the past and continues until the present (use 1).

If this is a little confusing, then use the words used when the present perfect is being used in a sentence to help you identify which use is being used in them. With the above two sentences, it is 'before' in the first and 'since' in the second which help you identify the use of the tense.

A little confusing I know, but knowing this now will help you in the future to understand and correctly use the tense.


Now do the quiz below to make sure that you can identify these five different uses of the present perfect.



Quiz:

Below are 10 sentences, each of which uses the present perfect. You have to decide which one of the 5 different uses of the present perfect (which you read about above) is being used in each sentence. Choose the use type from each question's selection box which you believe is correct. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

1.

Brad Pitt has made over 30 films in his career.

 

2.

Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman and his wife have been married for over 20 years.

 

3.

I'm sure that Henry has come to our house before, but I can't remember when.

 

4.

Juile: "Did you call Peter?"
Mary: "Yes, I have just phoned him. He says he's going to be late today."

 

5.

She has made a lot of changes in the office since she started with us.

 

6.

I think I must have eaten something bad. My stomach really hurts.

 

7.

Have you been to China? It's such an interesting place.

 

8.

Well, I have done my English homework. So I think I'm going to watch some TV.

 

9.

I have drunk 6 coffees already today.

 

10.

Where has Susan gone? I can't see her anywhere.

 





Practice

Now that you understand the different present perfect uses, practise them by creating your own sentences in English with them.