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The Perfect Tenses

The perfect tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb have + a past participle. The perfect tenses express the idea that an action was begun in the past and continued until a later time.

The present perfect tense is so named because the auxiliary have is conjugated in the present tense. It is used to describe an action that began in the past and continues until the present.

  • She has drawn her mom a picture every day for the past two weeks.
  • haven’t met anyone interesting since I moved into this apartment complex.
  • have navigated a sailboat many times.
  • He has already showered.

When combined with prepositional phrases that start with since or for, the present perfect can also express an action or situation that began in the past and that is still taking place in the present. Note that the concept of an action in progress or incomplete is expressed in the present perfect by a verb formed in the progressive.

  • have had these red gloves for three years.
  • have liked Harold and the Purple Crayon since I was five years old.
  • have been living on this island for two years.
  • have been standing here since eight o’clock.

Chronological references

Certain references to time require the use of a specific tense. The present perfect tense is used when the chronological reference is to an action begun in the past and continuing into the present. The simple past tense indicates that the action was completed in the past. Following are examples of chronological references that suggest the use of the present perfect tense.

  • I have worked here since the beginning of November.
  • Have you lived here for a long time?
  • During the past year, Pedro has seen several accidents at this corner.

The progressive form of the present perfect can be used to emphasize that an action is in progress or continues over a long period of time.

  • In the last few weeks, we have been traveling over much of Europe.

Compare these chronological references with ones that suggest the use of the simple past tense.

  • Helena bought several new blouses yesterday.
  • Were you in Boston again last week?
  • She stayed in the old house for only a few days after her grandmother died.
  • Bill lost over a hundred dollars while in Las Vegas.

The past perfect tense expresses an action that began in the past and ended in the past. It is called the past perfect because the auxiliary have is conjugated in the past tense.

  • Until yesterday evening, I had never seen that movie.
  • The cat simply left the house. Someone had forgotten to shut the back door.
  • He had already showered when we arrived.

When the conjunctions before or after are used to introduce a clause, the past perfect is rarely necessary, because the time relationship is already established and is usually clear. However, the past perfect may be used, even though the simple past suffices. Compare the following sets of examples.

  • Catherine had arrived before we called her.
  • Catherine arrived before we called her.
  • After Anna had left, I went for a walk.
  • After Anna left, I went for a walk.

The future perfect tense expresses an action that will begin and end in the future. It is formed with the future tense of have plus a past participle: he will have understood.

  • I will move to Boston in July. I will see you in September. By the time we meet again, I will have moved to Boston.
  • She will have finished painting the kitchen before she goes out to have dinner with Paul.
  • She will already have eaten when I get there.

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