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Using the Present Perfect Tense | Page 2

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4. An action or state happening repeatedly before that may happen again

You use the present perfect tense to express actions or states that have happened repeatedly before that may happen again.

Common expressions: You often see this use of the present perfect with several times, before, up until now, or so far.

Examples
  • I have been to France three before.
    (This has happened three times up until now; there is a change it will happen again.)
  • NASA has landed several probes on Mars.
    (There is no indication that they will stop doing so in the future.)
  • I have always liked Chopin.
    (I will likely continue liking Chopin in the future.)
  • I have unsuccessfully called Technical Support five times so far. They are not answering the phone.
    (I will continue calling until someone answers the phone.)

5. Introducing a topic or narrative in a formal paragraph

In academic writing, you can use the present perfect to introduce the topic of a paragraph.

In narrative paragraphs, even when telling a story in the past, you can introduce the narrative using the present perfect tense as a general statement about the story.

Examples

In the examples below, notice how the first sentences, which are in the present perfect tense, are followed by information in the simple past tense. Each of the first sentences “set the general background” (thus, not bound by any time in the past) for the narrative that follows, which is placed in the past.

  • I have been to France three before. The first time I was there, I was a senior in high school. My French teacher organized a trip to Paris every year as an incentive for students to work hard. To qualify, you had to earn a B or higher . . . .
  • Senator Ecks has won several tight races in his lifetime. In 1985, he beat his opponent by a slim margin. Polls indicated that his opponent was gaining on him, but he was able to . . . .
  • The actor has faced nearly lost hier life twice before. When she was 18, she was involved in a terrible car accident. Two of her friends who were in the car passed away. She was hospitalized for three months, but recovered from her injuries. The second time was last year, while she was filming Heart of a Lion. There was an accident on the set . . . .

A subtle distinction

Sometimes the time frame in the sentence can be interpreted as completely in the past or as including the present. You must then use the simple past tense or the present perfect tense, accordingly.

Compare the following sentences, eeping in mind that the present perfect tense brings to the present the action or state expressed by the verb:

1. (It’s 9 a.m.) Have you had breakfast this morning?

2. (It’s 9 p.m.) Did you have breakfast this morning?

Why is the present perfect tense used in Sentence 1, but the simple past tense is used in Sentence 2?

In Sentence 1, it is still morning, so it is possible that you have not had breakfast yet, but you will eventually. The time frame is the present.

In Sentence 2, the morning is in the past. It is possible you did or did not have breakfast. The time frame is in the past, and so is any action in that time frame.

Another Example

3. (You are still at work.) Have you talked to your supervisor today?

4. (The workday is over.) Did you talk to your supervisor today?

In Sentence 3, the idea is whether you have talked to your supervisor yet. The workday has not ended yet, so the time frame for the action extends into the present. “Today” is still in the present.

In Sentence 4, the workday is over. You either talked to your supervisor or not. “Today” is in the past.

Cultural Note

In American English, native speakers use and recognize the above distinction but tend to ignore it. They tend to favor the simple past tense, except in sentences using words such as “yet” or “already,” in which case they generally use the present perfect tense.

Such a disinction is still observed in formal, written American English.

Practice

Practice 1: conversational sentences using the present perfect tense.

Practice 2: formal, academic sentences using the present perfect tense.

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