Lots of students want to know how the present perfect works. It is definitely one of the hardest parts of English grammar. I have a special way of explaining it – maybe it can help you!
When we study a new piece of grammar, we have to look at the meaning, form and usage. The form of the present perfect is as follows:
subject + have/has + past participle
Here are a few example sentences:
- I have eaten too much food.
- Steven has drunk too much wine.
We often make questions with ‘ever’ and answer with ‘never’:
- A: Have you ever been to Madagascar?
- B: No, I’ve never been there unfortunately.
THE GOLDEN RULE
So what about the meaning and usage? Often, teachers say that we use the present perfect for a past action that ‘has an effect on the present’. But what does this mean? Surely everything has an effect on the present, in some way or form? Another way is to say that we use it for a past action that continues to the present. This is only sometimes true.
When I teach the present perfect, I like to focus on time periods. As far as I can tell, there is a great general rule for using the present perfect:
If you are talking about something that happened in the past or started in the past but the time period is not finished, use the present perfect.
CHECK THE TIME PERIOD
For example, ‘this week’, ‘this year’ and ‘today’ are all unfinished. ‘Last week’, ‘last year’ and ‘yesterday’ are all finished, so you use the past simple.
- I have eaten pizza twice this week.
- Last week I only ate pizza once.
It’s the same if you are talking about where you live. If you are talking about where you live, use the present simple. When the sentence is about the length of time you have lived in a place and you still live there, then you should use the present perfect. If you don’t live there any more, use the past simple:
- I live in London. (present tense)
- I’ve lived there for seven years. (present perfect, I still live there)
- I lived in Manchester for ten years. (past simple, I don’t live there anymore)
So how does it work again?
To summarise, if you want to use the present perfect correctly, remember that it describes an action or state that took place or began in the past, but with an unfinished time period. Whenever you’re not sure, think about whether the time period is finished or not and you will have your answer!