The perfect Tense and other alternatives and how to use

One of the big questions that I am always asked about English grammar is the use of the Perfect Tense. It can be slightly complicated as there are other alternatives that we maybe thinking that we can use. This little guide and video can maybe help you understand and decide how and what to use.

The Present Perfect Continuous is formed with the present perfect of be and the -ing form of the verb:

  • I’ve been waiting here all morning
  • What have you been doing lately?
  • I haven’t been sleeping well recently

Describes past events which are connected to the present plus the action or situation is in progress

  • What have you been doing lately?
  • I’ve been working a lot.
  • How long have you been living here?

Can emphasise the length of the action

  • I’ve been waiting here all morning
  • I’ve been feeling ill for weeks.

Can emphasise the action is temporary

  • I’ve been staying in a hotel for three months

Can be used for repeated actions

  • I’ve been phoning her for days but she’s never at home

The action may be finishing or continuing – we only know this by the situation

  • Carlos has been studying English for two years and now he’s stopped. What a shame!
  • Carlos has been studying English for two years.
  • He’s going to do an exam next year.

Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous?

There is very little difference between the two

  • I’ve worked/been working here for two years
  • I’ve lived/been living here for five years.

If we give details on quantity we DO NOT use the continuous

  • I’ve written four emails
  • I’ve done a lot of cooking and cleaning this afternoon

Present Perfect if focus is on the finished result but Present Perfect Continuous if focus is on the action

  • I’ve written that email to Peter, I was meaning to do it for ages. (present perfect)
  • I’ve been writing that email to Peter and it’s taken an hour! (present perfect continuous)

Present Simple or Present Perfect

Present Simple describes habit or states in the present Present Perfect describes time until the present

  • I live in Prague ( a permanent state I always live there) - (present simple)
  • I’ve lived in Prague for two years (I arrived two years ago and still live there)  - (present perfect)

Past Simple or Present Perfect

Past Simple describes event with a completed time period Present Perfect describes time period including the present

  • I lived in London in the nineties ( now I live somewhere else ) - (past simple)
  • I’ve lived in Prague since the nineties (I still live there ) - (present continuous)

The choice of tense depends whether our attention is in the past or the present

  • I had an umbrella but I left it on the bus ( the event is distant in our mind ) - (past simple)
  • Oh no! I’ve left my umbrella on the bus ( the event is present on my mind ) - (present perfect)

Have been and have gone

If we have been to a place, we went there and have now returned. If we have gone to a place, we went there but have not returned.

  • Peter has been to China. ( and he has come back )
  • Peter has gone to China. ( and he is still there )

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