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Two women having a conversation over coffee

How to use the present perfect 

The present perfect talks about the past (funny that). However, it links the past to the present and that is the most important thing. This is also the main difference between the past simple which just talks about things that are finished.

You have probably studied this tense a few times over but might still find it confusing to use. This is because it doesn’t exist in some languages or it is used differently.

So when must you use present perfect and when must you use past simple?

The present perfect is used to talk about experiences in the past (but when you do not say exactly when they happened).

For example: I have been to Cape Town. (At sometime in my life.)

Link to the present? This is an experience that I have in life.

The present perfect is used to talk about things that have just recently happened.

For example: I have just been to Cape Town. (I came back a few days ago.)

Link to the present? It happened recently.

The present perfect is used to talk about a length of time (from the past to now) using ‘since’.

For example: I have lived in Cape Town since 2010. ( I moved to Cape Town in 2010.)

Link to the present? I live in Cape Town now.  

The present perfect is used with already and yet (this one is a bit more tricky to explain in a sentence hence the conversation).

Conversation 1

‘I can’t believe what happened in the final episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, the …….’

‘Don’t tell me! I haven’t watched it yet!!!’ ( I am planning to watch it, so don’t spoil it!)

Conversation 2

‘Would you like to watch the final episode tonight?’

‘No thanks, I’ve already seen it.’

Link to the present? These also refer to experiences that you have (or haven’t) in your life.

This is the whole thing in a nutshell. So keep it in mind when you come across examples of the present perfect used in movies you watch, or books you read so that you can join your awareness of the ‘rules’ with context and develop an intuitive sixth sense for when to use it. 

Speaking tip

When someone asks you a question, listen to the tense they use because you will probably need to use it to answer the question.

By Catherine Scott

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