Grammar: How do I make the perfect tense and why?

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Using the perfect tense in English grammar

Ajarn Ken,

Sometimes it confuses me about the perfect tenses in English Grammar. Can you tell me, in simple terms, how it works and when do we use it?

Eli from Bulgaria

Hi Eli

Ok, lets look at the verbs and give you a little idea before i go into the perfect tense. We look at irregular verbs and regular verbs first

Irregular Verbs

When a sentence uses the auxiliary verb have before the main verb, the main verb changes.It becomes the past participle form of the verb. For example, take the irregular verb eat:

  • I like to eat.
  • We all eat.
  • I eat well.

In these sentences, we express general truth. The verb eat is used in the present form.

Now see how this verb changes when we use the simple past form:

  • I ate dinner at 5 o’clock.
  • I ate a big meal last night.
  • I ate sushi for lunch.

In these sentences, we are talking about the past and the verb eat changes to ate.

Now see what happens when we use the perfect form:

  • I’ve eaten already.
  • Have you ever eaten snails?
  • We have eaten at this restaurant many times.

In these sentences, we are talking about something that happened in the past, or started in the past, which still affects us in the present. It could be an experience or perhaps an event that changed your life (such as moving to a new house or starting a new job).

Notice, however, that the auxiliary verb have appears before the main verb eat and the main verb changes to the past participle form eaten.

The change in the verbs can be shown like this: eat > ate > eaten.

Here are a few examples using irregular verbs:

  • do > did > done
  • speak > spoke > spoken
  • go > went > gone

With irregular verbs it is easy to identify the past participle form of the verb. There are less than 200 irregular verbs in the English language. Here are some other examples of irregular verbs:

  • cast > cast > cast
  • set > set > set
  • cost > cost > cost

 

Regular Verbs

Look at this example: I have finished work for today.

The auxiliary verb have precedes the main verb finish. The past participle form of the verb is finished. This looks exactly the same as the past tense form of the verb, because finish is a regular verb.

The change in the verbs can be shown like this:

  • finish > finished > finished

Here are a few examples using regular verbs:

  • walk > walked > walked
  • like > liked > liked
  • smile > smiled > smiled

When a regular verb changes to the past simple form you usually place a simple –ed on the end.

When a regular verb changes to the past participle form, again, you place a simple –ed on the end.

Unlike irregular verbs, the past participle form of regular verbs are not easily identified. look for the auxiliary verb have or be that precedes it. It is preceded by a form of ‘have’ in perfect tenses and by a form of ‘be’ in the passive voice (for example, ‘He was admired by everyone’).

Present Perfect Tense

Look at the following sentences:

  • I have travelled to Japan.
  • We have eaten sushi.
  • He has learned to speak Japanese.

These sentences use the auxiliary verb have or has, which is followed by the past participle form of the verb. This tense construction is called the Present Perfect tense. Sometimes it is called the Present Perfect Simple tense.

Any tenses that are not continuous tenses are called simple.

We often use this tense to talk about experiences we have had, things that we have done and something that started in the past but hasn’t been completed.

I hope this answers your question Eli. Good luck!

Ajarn Ken

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