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summary

1- Past and present action

2- Past action, present period of time

3- Past action, present consequences

SPECIAL CASES

- Repeated actions
- Life experience
- Recent past

 

activities

Present Perfect: uses
 
Present Perfect: special uses
 
Level: Level: Medium

Present Perfect: uses

When we saw the difference between Present Perfect and Simple Past, we saw that to use the present perfect we need two conditions:
1- We give no information about when the action happens (or it happened in a present period of time)
2- There must be a connection between past and present

Now we are going to see the specific situations when these two conditions are fulfilled.

  All this is British English usage. American usage is more varied and sometimes it defers (they sometimes use a simple past where a British or Australian native would always use a present perfect)

THE THREE USES OF THE PRESENT PERFECT

 

The word PERFECT in grammar means "past", and the word PRESENT means... "present", so the Present Perfect tense is talking about the past and about the present at the same time. There are three cases when this happens.

We will use standard action graphics, so first let's explain the meaning of them:

graphics explained

Remember that the PRESENT is not only this very instant of now, we usually have a wider conception of the present and it usually means "this time around now", which may include the past few minutes, hours or even days. And now let's see every case.

 

1 Past and Present action

The action started in the past and continues up to the present   (it may stop in the present or continue in the future)

graphic 1a                     B   graphic 1-b

A-  I've known Kevin for years (the action still continues in the present)
B- Here you are! I've been looking for you all day  
        
(the action stopped)

 

2 Past action, Present period of time

The action finished in the past but it happens in a present period of time

graphic 2

I saw Tim yesterday, but I haven’t seen him today           
("yesterday" is a past period of time, "today" is present)
This year he’s passed all his exams ("this year" is still present)

 

3 Past action, Present consequences

The action is past but the important thing is its present consequence (not the past action). That is, we use a past action to talk about a present consequence.

graphic 2

 
Bill is giving a party because he has been elected president
(he celebrates that now he is president)
You've bought a new car!
        
(now you have a new car)

 


EXTENDING EXPLANATIONS

Those are the three cases when we use the present perfect. Now we will explain those cases in more detail and we will see some special variations.

 

1     graphic 1a  Actions and states continuing up to now

We use the present perfect to talk about actions, states and situations which started in the past and still continue, or which have just stopped.

2 cases

case 1-   
I've played basket for years
        
(the action may go on into the future)
case 1- We've always lived here (the action may go on into the future)
case 2- Thanks, I've been lost all this time (but now I've found you, so the action has stopped)

Compare:

    I’ve smoked for 2 years (and I still do or maybe I have just given up today)   graphic 4b

    I smoked for 2 years (but not now anymore)   graphic 4a

 

2     graphic 2  Past action in a Present period of time

Compare:
They have arrived today
    ~     They arrived yesterday
11am: Has anyone asked for me this morning?     ~     5pm: Did  anyone ask for me this morning?
I’ve seen your father today     ~    I saw your father today at 8 o’clock

 

 

3     graphic 3  Past action, Present consequence

In this case, when talking about a past action we use the present perfect if the information we want to transmit is present and we use the past tense if the information we want to transmit is past.

I SAY I MEAN
     
She’s made a cake     =
now there is a cake
Have I met you before?     = do I know you?
Have you eaten anything?     = are you hungry?
I’ve broken my leg     = my leg is broken
Compare:
 Mum, Kevin has let the cat out (important information: the cat is in the street)
 Mum, Kevin let the cat out
(important information: Kevin did it)
 Look, I’ve painted a new picture (=this is my picture  // I’m interested in the present)
 Nice picture. Did you paint it yourself? (I’m interested in the past, to know who did it)


Chances are that in the first case the mother didn’t know that the cat was out, and that is the information we want to transmit [we’re talking about the present] (the fact that it was Kevin who did it is secondary); and in the second case the mother probably knows already that the cat is out, and the information we want to transmit is that Kevin is the one who did it [we’re talking about the past]


SPECIAL CASES

These particular cases are part of of the three cases we have seen, but more specific

Repeated actions

This is a special case of case 1. Instead of one action, it may also be repeated actions: we use the present perfect to say that something has happened several times up to the present.

repetitions graph

In this case, the connection with the present must continue, that is, the action may be repeated in the future. If repetition in the future is impossible then we must use the simple past. It is not important if you want or want not to repeat the experience, the important thing is only the possibility.

I have seen wolves in the forest           
(there are still wolves there and I haven’t gone blind
so it is possible for me to see them again)
I saw wolves in the forest
(now there are no wolves so I can’t see them again)
My grand-mother has seen the queen twice  
(both are alive, so she might see the queen again)
My grand-mother saw the queen twice (my grand-mother is dead or the queen is dead)


Life experience

We use the present perfect to talk about life experience.

    I have been to India
    She has never eaten pozole
    I've met people from Africa
    We haven't learned to speak French, but we want to
    I have seen the pyramids in Egypt

This is a special case of case 3: the action is past but we’re not talking about my visit to India etc, but about the fact that I know India, I’ve got that experience. But, as we said in the special case above, if the experience can't be repeated then we must use the simple past.

    I went to the top of the World Trade Center towers in New York   (they don't exist anymore, so I can't repeat the experience)

 

Recent Past

this is a special case of case 2 if we consider the present as “the time around now” and not only this very instant. Everything that happened “a moment ago” is usually expressed with the present perfect.

    Oh, sorry, I’ve broken your glass
    You can't find it? I think I have put it there
    Mum, I've seen a man waiting outside. Do you know him?
    Sorry I'm late, I have met an old friend in the street
    TV news: a bomb has exploded near the bus station

But... if we talk about something that happened only a few seconds ago, then we use the simple past:

    Ssshhh, what was that? Oh, it was just a rabbit
    Sorry, What did you say? I couldn't understand you
    Oh no, you broke it again!
    What? Did you say she's coming?

 


WITH OTHER ELEMENTS

WITH SUPERLATIVES
Very often we use the present perfect with superlatives and "ever":
    This is the most interesting book I’ve ever read    (=this is the most interesting book I’ve read in my life)

AGO
It goes at the end and it is always used with the past tense
   I saw him two days ago       (when? Two days ago)

JUST+ PRESENT PERFECT 
    She has just left            (= she left a moment ago)
    I’ve just finished my work        (= I finished only a few minutes ago)

GONE / BEEN
    She has gone to Russia = she’s in Russia now
    She’s been to Russia  = she went there but now she’s back

FOR / SINCE
- FOR expresses duration (it can be used with present perfect or simple past; question: how long?)

    I’ve lived in Madrid for 4 years (and still do)     graphic 6


    I lived in Madrid for 4 years but now I live in Rome     graphic 5



- SINCE indicates the moment when the action starts and we assume that the action continues up to the present (so we use present perfect; question: since when?)

    I’ve lived in Madrid since 1990        graphic 7


    I lived in Madrid from 1990 to 1994
       graphic 8

 

If you want to learn about the present perfect continous click here.

 
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