Skip navigation

Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

Using the Present Perfect Tense | Page 2

Continued from page 1.

Meaning of the Present Perfect Tense (continued)

4. An action or state happening repeatedly before and 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 expressing repeated action or state

I have been to France three times 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 introducing topic or narrative in formal paragraph

Note. In the examples below, notice how the first sentences, which are in the present perfect tense, are followed by information in the past simple 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 times 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 nearly lost her 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 past simple tense or the present perfect tense, accordingly.

Examples showing distinction between the present perfect and simple past

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

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

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

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

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

In Sentence 2, the morning is in the past. The “morning time frame” is in the past. It is possible you did or did not have breakfast. Either way, the window of opportunity is long gone.

Examine another example.

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

Sentence 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. “At work today” is still in the present.

In Sentence 4, the workday is over. You either talked to your supervisor or not. “At work 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 past simple tense, except in sentences using words such as “yet” or “already,” in which case they generally use the present perfect tense.

Such a distinction is still observed and common in formal, written American English.

Assess Your Learning

Practice 1: conversational sentences using the present perfect tense.

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

Congratulations on completing this lesson!

Card image cap

Thanks to our supporters!

This material has been made possible by supporters like you. Learn how you can support us.

Card image cap

“What should I learn next?”

Use the navigation buttons to choose another skill or another lesson in this skill.

 Thank you for Supporting Snap Language

Snap Language supporters make the creation of these materials possible.

Learn how you can support our work, get perks, and help us continue creating high-quality materials.

You can support us by simply white-listing this site.