The Present Perfect (Simple) is a past tense – it is used to describe actions that started in the past, and still effect the present. The auxiliary verb is to have, and it is used with the past participle (3rd column) of the main verb: I have done. In Spanish there is a similar tense that uses haber to describe the past – he hecho. however it is not exactly the same as the English tense, and it will be confusing to imagine that they can be used in the same way.
The Past Simple tense describes an action that finished
The Present Perfect describes an action that started (not important “when” it started) and still continues / or still affects the present.
Here are some examples of when we normally use the tense – the basic idea that links them all is that a process began in the past, and continues to have an effect on the present and that the exact time it started is not important:
Describing Accomplishments & Life Experiences
- He has visited France – He is still alive, so this event still has an influence on the present. He visited France could be used to describe someone who is now dead, but the present perfect sentence cannot.
- I have not seen this film before – describes something that was true in my life, until now.
- Man has walked on the moon – this is an accomplishment. It happened in the past. It has a present effect on how we understand man.
- She has collected a lot of money for charity – this is another accomplishment. Again, it describes an action in the past, and emphasises its affect on the present. She collected a lot of money is also correct of course, but it omits the emphasis on the present effect that this action has.
Describing Change over time
- You have grown – describes the change that has happened since the last time I saw you and the present
- My English has improved (since last year) – describes the change that has happened between last year, and the present
Describing Incomplete Actions (sometimes with yet)
- I have not done my homework yet – from the past, until the present moment, this is true.
- We have had many problems with this project – from the past, until the present, this is true. It implies that the project is not finished and that more problems are possible.
- I have done the activity five times – from the past until the present this is true. The implication is that I will do the activity at least one more time. If we say I did the exercise five times the implication is that I will no longer do the exercise and the 5th time was the last time.
IMPORTANT: “Last year” and “in the last year” are very different in meaning. “Last year” means the year before now, and it is considered a specific time which requires Simple Past. “In the last year” means from 365 days ago until now. It is not considered a specific time, so it requires Present Perfect.
Some exercises to test your understanding
Original material sourced from EnglishPage.com