What Is the Present Perfect Tense? | Examples & Use

The present perfect tense of a verb is used to discuss a past action or event that has effects in the present. It is used to refer to actions that started in the past and are continuing in the present, actions that have recently ended, or changes that have happened over time.

The present perfect uses a form of the auxiliary verb “have” and the past participle of the main verb (e.g., “You have grown”). The third person singular (e.g., “he,” “she,” and “it”) uses “has”; all other subjects use “have.”

Present perfect forms
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I have traveled I haven’t traveled Have I traveled?
You have traveled You haven’t traveled Have you traveled?
He/she/it has traveled He/she/it hasn’t traveled Has he/she/it traveled?
We have traveled We haven’t traveled Have we traveled?
You have traveled You haven’t traveled Have you traveled?
They have traveled They haven’t traveled Have they traveled?

How to use the present perfect

The present perfect is formed by combining the auxiliary verb “have” (or “has” for the third person singular) and the past participle of the main verb. The subject and auxiliary verb are frequently combined into a contraction in affirmative statements (e.g., “They’ve worked”).

The present perfect is used to discuss changes that have happened over time, experience up to the present, recently completed actions (often with “just”), and incomplete actions that are expected to be completed (in the negative form, usually with “yet”).

Present perfect examples
She has improved her marathon time by ten minutes.

Finn has worked for the company for three years.

I’ve just finished eating.

We have not tried the new restaurant yet.

Note
For regular verbs, the past participle is the same as the simple past form (e.g., “he has talked” and “he talked”). For irregular verbs, though, the past participle may be different than the simple past form (e.g., “she has eaten” vs. “she ate”).

When used with the simple future tense, the present perfect can also describe a future action. In this scenario, a subordinating conjunction (e.g., “after,” “when”) usually introduces the present perfect clause.

Present perfect and simple future examples
I’ll respond as soon as I’ve heard from Claire.

After the group has eaten dinner, we’ll serve dessert.

Note
Sometimes, two present perfect verbs have the same subject. In this case, the second verb does not require the auxiliary verb “have.” However, if there are two subjects, the auxiliary verb should be included after each one.

  • He’s finished the report and sent it to Ava.
  • Tim has vacuumed, and Mari has mopped.

Indicating time

Since the present perfect is used to refer to occurrences at a nonspecific past time, adverbs that refer to an unspecified time (e.g., “never,” “before,” “once”) often appear in sentences using this tense.

Present perfect and adverb examples
I have never been to Japan.

Canada has won two gold medals so far.

Phrases that reference a specific time (e.g., “yesterday,” “last month”) are usually accompanied by a preposition (e.g., “since,” “for”) when used in the present perfect.

Present perfect and preposition examples
  • I have worked out last month.
  • I have worked out for the last month.
  • She has been here yesterday.
  • She has been here since yesterday.

Simple past vs present perfect

Both the simple past and the present perfect are used to refer to past actions, but there are some differences in their use:

  • The present perfect describes an action that happened in the past and has present effects or that started in the past and may continue.
  • The simple past typically describes an action that happened at a specific time in the past and will not continue.
Simple past vs present perfect examples
She worked at the school until 2020.

She has worked at the school for three years. (She still works there.)

I visited Ireland three years ago.

I have visited Ireland twice. (I may visit again.)

Present perfect vs present perfect continuous

The present perfect and the present perfect continuous (or present perfect progressive) are both used to refer to the current effects of a past action or event (e.g., “I have played tennis for five years” and “I have been playing tennis for five years”).

The two tenses are not always interchangeable, though:

  • The present perfect refers to past occurrences that may or may not continue in the present.
  • The present perfect continuous describes occurrences that started in the past and are definitely ongoing.
Present perfect vs present perfect continuous examples
Bowen has written a journal article. (The article is probably complete.)

Bowen has been writing a journal article. (The article is not yet complete.)

Note
Stative verbs—verbs that describe a stable condition (e.g., “know,” “understand,” “own”) can be used in the present perfect, but they are typically not used in the present perfect continuous.

  • I have been owning a house for three months.
  • I have owned a house for three months.

How to form negatives

In the present perfect, negatives are formed by adding the adverb “not” between the auxiliary verb “have” and the main verb.

Negative present perfect examples
Melody has not eaten lunch yet.

We haven’t seen a movie in over a month.

Note
The auxiliary verb “have” and the adverb “not” are often combined into a contraction in negative statements (e.g., “You haven’t won,” “it hasn’t rained”). It’s not typical to contract the subject and the verb in negative statements (e.g., “You’ve not won”).

How to form questions

Yes–no questions are formed in the present perfect by placing the auxiliary verb first, then the subject, and then the past participle of the main verb.

Present perfect tense question examples
Have they made the reservation yet?

Has Sam lived here long?

Wh-questions (using interrogative pronouns like “what” or interrogative adverbs like “why”) are formed like yes–no questions but with the addition of the wh-word before “have” or “has.”

Present perfect tense questions with interrogatives examples
Why have they purchased a boat?

Where have you traveled?

How to form the passive voice

The passive voice is used to show that the subject is not the one performing the action but is instead being acted on. The passive voice can be expressed in the present perfect tense by inserting the past participle of the verb “be” (i.e., “been”) between the auxiliary verb and the past participle form of the main verb.

Present perfect passive sentence examples
The star player has been ejected by the referee.

All of the appetizers have been eaten.

Frequently asked questions about the present perfect tense

What is the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous?

The present perfect and the present perfect continuous (present perfect progressive) are both verb tenses that are used to refer to the current effects of a past action or event. There are some differences between the two tenses, though:

  • The present perfect is used to refer to past occurrences that may continue in the present (e.g., “I have traveled to six countries”).
  • The present perfect continuous describes occurrences that started in the past and are ongoing (e.g., “I have been trying to talk to the doctor since last week”).
What is the difference between the present perfect and the simple past?

Both the simple past and the present perfect are verb tenses that are used to refer to past actions, but there are some differences in their use:

  • The present perfect describes an action that happened in the past and has present effects or that began in the past and might continue (e.g., “I have seen that movie three times”).
  • The simple past typically describes an action that happened at a specific time in the past and won’t continue (e.g., “I ate a waffle for breakfast”).
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Kayla Anderson Hewitt, MA

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.