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Blog : present perfect

Present Perfect Theory

Present Perfect Theory

The perfect tenses are perhaps the most confusing for English as a foreign language learn, especially Argentineans. The reason for this is that very few people in Argentina utilize the castellano equivalent.

The problem I have seen over the years with the use of these tenses is not necessarily in understanding the theory but rather in knowing when to apply it.

So let’s begin to break it down.

Present Perfect is: Have/Has + Past Participle

  • Unspecific. So, we will frequently use it with words like: before, once, already.
  • Repetitive action in the past (unspecific): many times, a few times, twice.
  • Unfinished. This means it started in the past but is unfinished: since, for, up to now, yet, never, ever, so far.
  • Something that has just happened: just, recently.

But, when we use it the most is for asking question we have no know way of knowing the answer to. Have you ever been, have you seen, have you tasted, etc. 

The confusion comes when deciding whether we should use Past Simple or Present Perfect and it is VERY important to know the difference because we can make huge mistakes like the following.

Imagine you are looking to “pick someone up” in a bar and so you are getting to know them. Read the dialogue and see if you can detect the difference between the two tenses.

Scenario #1

A: Have you ever been married?

B: Yes, I was married for 10 years.

This person is clearly divorced after having been married for 10 years.

Scenario #2

A: Have you ever been married?

B: Yes, I have been married for 10 years.

This person is STILL married and has been married for 10 years.

Do you see how incredibly important it is to know the difference?

Look at the activities below to see if you can decide between Past Simple and Present Perfect.

  1. Last night I _____________________(lose) my keys so I had to call my flatmate to let me in.
  2. Doctor: Do you smoke cigarettes?
    Patient: Yes, I _______________________ (smoke) since I was 15 years old.
  3. I ___________________(traveled) to Paris three times.
  4. Last year I _______________________(visit) my cousin in Milan.
  5. Melanie and I are best friend. We_________________ (meet) in 2001. I can’t believe we ______ (be) friends for so long.
  6. Sorry I ___________________(write) in so long! I___________(be) really busy with work because one of the other secretaries ________________(quit) last week.
  7. I _________________(play) Hockey since I was a child. I’m not professional but I am pretty good!
  8. My mom _____________________ (celebrate) her fiftieth birthday this month.
  9. _________ you already _______(eat) ? I _______________(make) a delicious stew!
  10. I _________never___________ (saw) that movie.


Dream Job

Dream Job

Read the following short story to see if you can detect the perfect tenses in context.

“So tell us a little bit about yourself Kyle,” a voice boomed from the long lacquer table of black suits and bow ties. All eyes were on him. He had never done this kind of interview before. He felt intimidated being the center of attention.

“Well, I’m originally from Chicago. I have been living here in New York for the last two years, but I have lived all over really. I spent some time in Europe and South America, and have lived in California off and on again for the past 20 years. But like I said. I was born in Chicago.”

He was nervous. Being called for an interview by the New Yorker Magazine was something he had only fantasized about. Yet, here he was sitting before the board; the board who has published the first works of nearly all best selling authors in modern literature. The magazine who, since 1925, has evolved in establishing itself as the number one forum for serious fiction literature and journalism.

“And what brings you to New York?” asked the short brunette with cat eyed glasses.

“Oh um, my grandmother died a few months ago. She left me an apartment here so I thought I would try my luck. She always used to say, “you haven’t lived if you haven’t lived in New York.” So here I am, living.

“And have you always wanted to be a writer?” inquired the slightly balding Jack Nicholson look alike.

“I have never wanted anything more. I have kept a journal since the time I learned how to write. I still carry it everywhere with me. In fact, it is hard to believe I am even here right now. I have dreamed about this moment for so long. To be honest, I actually pinched myself to make sure this moment was real.”

There was a murmur of sophisticated giggles.

“Well, we were quite impressed with your writing,” said Jack’s twin. “Which is why we have decided to offer you a full time position here at the magazine. Your schedule would be from 9-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and when we have a heave deadline, we may ask you to work overtime. The salary starts at $45,000 a year. How does that sound to you?

Surprise painted his face. He hadn’t expected this. He had drawn this day in his mind and acted it out in his sleep, but he had never imagined he would be living it as a reality.

“It has been said, that good things come to those who wait and while that may ring true, as I have been waiting most of my life for this moment, I think that time must be accompanied by hard work. I have worked hard to get here and will continue doing so. It has not always been easy but I would have to be a fool to say no to the opportunity of a lifetime.

“We are happy you have accepted, they sounded in unison. “Welcome aboard.”

Written by Stephanie Cariker

Director at English in Rosario