Present Perfect Tense in English Grammar

Introduction

The present perfect tense connects the past with the present. Use this tense to emphasise the result of a past action, especially when the exact time of this action is not important. The present perfect is formed using a present form of the verb have and the past participle of the main verb. Be aware that many languages have a tense that is similar to the present perfect, however, the usage is probably different.

Learn about the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present perfect and master the usage of this tricky English tense. In the exercises, you can test your grammar skills.

Example

James loves football and plays very well. He has bought new trainers and now he plays even better than before.

James is the team captain because he has never lost a match.

It looks like his team will win this match as well. James has just scored a goal and the referee has not blown the final whistle yet. The other team has not scored a goal so far.

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When to use the present perfect simple

We use the present perfect tense to express:

  • an action that has recently been completed
    Example:
    He has just scored a goal.

    When he scored the goal is not important.

  • a completed action with influence on the present
    Example:
    He has bought new trainers and now he plays even better than before.
  • an action that has never happened, or has happened once or several times up to the time of speaking
    Example:
    He has never lost a match.
    The referee has not blown the final whistle yet.
    The other team has not scored a goal so far.

There are four present tenses in English grammar. Besides the present perfect, there is the simple present, the present progressive, and the present perfect progressive.

Learn about the differences between English present tenses on Lingolia’s English Tense Comparison page:

Signal Words: English Present Perfect Tense

Signal words can help us to recognise the tense in a sentence. The table below gives an overview of the most important signal words for the present perfect simple as well as example sentences. Note the position of the signal words in the sentences; most follow the auxiliary (help verb), however there are others that come at the end of the phrase (yet, so far etc.)

Signal Word Meaning Example
already
  • before the moment of speaking
  • (positive sentences)
I’ve already read this book.
just
  • very recently
James has just scored a goal.
(not) yet
  • until the present time
  • (negative sentences and questions)

Have you seen it yet?

The referee has not blown the final whistle yet.

ever
  • at any time, in your whole life
  • (positive sentences and questions)

Have you ever tried scuba diving?

It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

never
  • not at any time before
  • (gives a negative meaning to a positive sentence)
He has never lost a match.
so far
  • until now
The other team has not scored a goal so far.
... times
  • how many occasions until now
Apparently he’s been to the Arctic circle four times.

Some of the signal words for the present perfect simple are the same as those for the past perfect. The difference is that when used together with the present perfect the signal words refer to the present or the very recent past.

Conjugation of English Present Perfect Tense

To conjugate the present perfect tense in English we use the present form of the auxiliary verb have and the past participle of the main verb. The table below provides and overview of the conjugation in positive, negative and interrogative sentences.

positive negative question
I/you/we/they I have played/spoken I have not played/spoken Have I played/spoken?
he/she/it he has played/spoken he has not played/spoken Has he played/spoken?

Past participle – Spelling Rules

The past participle for regular verbs is formed by adding -ed to the base form of the verb. The past participle of irregular verbs is different and should be memorised. However, here are a few exceptions to take note of when conjugating the past participle of regular verbs:

  • When a verb ends with -e, we simply add a -d.
    Example:
    love – loved (not: loveed)
  • The final consonant is doubled after short stressed vowels.
    Example:
    admit – admitted
  • The final consonant -l is always doubled after a vowel in British English but not in American English.
    Example:
    travel – travelled (British), traveled (American)
  • A -y at the end of the word is replaced by an -i.
    Example:
    hurry – hurried

Learn the difference between the irregular past participles of the verb go with our page on been to/gone to.

Contractions

Contractions are a combination of certain pronouns, verbs and the word not. They are mostly used in spoken and informal written English. The table below provides an overview of contractions in the present perfect tense using the verb have.

long form contraction example
have …’ve they’ve
have not …’ve not/… haven’t I’ve not/I haven’t
has …’s she’s
has not …’s not/… hasn’t he’s not/he hasn’t

Note

In written English, we usually form contractions with a pronoun and an auxiliary (help verb), but not with a noun and an auxiliary.

Example:
They’ve never played football.
(but not: The girls’ve never played football)

However, the contraction of has can be used after nouns as well as pronouns.

Example:
He’s/The boy’s never played football.
’s = has

Words that end in -s are an exception to this:

Example:
James’s never played football. → James has never played football.