The present perfect connects the present and the past. In this English lesson we’ll show you how to form the present perfect and when use it.
You’ll learn about the three uses of the present perfect:
1. Unfinished actions that started in the past and are still continuing
2. Life experiences that happened at an indefinite time
3. Past actions that are important now because they are news or because their results matter in the present.
And best of all you’ll see lots of examples of the present perfect in action in a comedy sketch about a performance review. This story is fun for everyone and especially for business English students.
The 3 uses of the present perfect
The present perfect indicates that something happened before now.
Notice we have two different times here. Before – that’s the past – and now – that’s the present.
The present perfect connects the present and the past.
We’ve had a lot of requests for this video.
We’ll show you how to form it and when to use it.
And also when not to use it. You’re going to learn how it’s different from the past.
And we have a story for you, to help you remember it. We’re going to show you how to use it in action.
Hey, I’ve got a meeting with management in five minutes.
It’s my performance review.
Have you had yours yet?
Yeah, I had mine yesterday.
I want to do really well. Do you have any tips?
What are they going to ask me?
Well, the first question is always ‘Have you achieved your goals this year?’
Oh great. I think I have. I’ve done really well this year.
We form the present perfect with the verb ‘have’ and the past participle of the main verb. So the main verb here is ‘achieve’ and ‘have’ is an auxiliary or help verb. It helps us form the sentence. ‘Achieve’ is regular but notice what happens if we have an irregular verb. Do, did, done – we use the third part of the verb. So if the main verb is ‘have’ we say ‘have had’!
We form questions by changing the word order. So ‘I have achieved my goals’ becomes ‘Have you achieved your goals?’ To form negatives, add ‘not’. And to form short answers, use ‘have’. When we’re speaking, we don’t normally stress ‘have’ because it’s not the main verb. So we generally contract it and we say I’ve, you’ve, he’s, she’s, and so on.
Perhaps your language has a tense with ‘have’ and the past participle too! If so, you might be thinking, oh this looks the same.
Don’t be fooled! The we way we use the present perfect in English is different.
Yes, so let’s see how it works.
How long have you worked here, Jay?
For a year. I love it.
And have you ever had a performance review before?
Excellent. You’re going to do great. So what were your goals this year?
Well one goal was to arrive on time and be punctual.
And have you ever been late?
No. Only when the traffic was bad. And when I lost my car keys.
And when you overslept. Are you sure you want to talk about punctuality?
Maybe not. Oh! But I’ve been taking a course about customer service. I can tell them about that.
Oh. How long have you been doing that?
But you haven’t finished it yet?
Oh, well then, you can’t talk about that. That’s no good.
Oh. OK, here’s a good one. I’ve met all my sales targets. In fact, I’ve just won the top sales person award.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, you’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to appear too big-headed.
Yes, you don’t want to sound like you’re boastful or conceited. That’s very bad.
Then what can I do?
Tell them your co-workers have helped you achieve your sales targets.
Yes, it shows you’re a team player.
Oh I get it. Praise the team.
Exactly. Say you couldn’t have done it without them. Management will love that.
I think you’re going to get me in trouble again.
Keep watching and you’ll find out what happens. But let’s look at the present perfect first. There are basically three ways we use the present perfect in English.
They all connect the present and the past, but in slightly different ways and we’ll go through them one by one.
Here’s the first way. We use the present perfect for actions that started in the past that are still continuing now. So we often use it to talk about how long something has continued. We use it like this with the words ;’How long’, ‘for’ and ‘since’.
In many languages, you’d use the present tense to express this idea, but not in English. The present tense would be wrong here. Use the present perfect and it’ll indicate the action is still going on. And if we use the past form instead, it means the action is finished.
How long have you worked here?
For a year. Before this I worked for a software company.
And how long did you work there?
For 5 years.
Notice we can use ‘How long’ to ask about actions that are continuing, or actions that are finished.
‘How long have you…?’ means the action is still continuing. ‘How long did you …?’ means the action is finished.
And we could also use the continuous form of the present perfect here. That works too.
In this context, these questions mean the same thing. In other contexts there’s sometimes a difference and we’ll make another video about that.
So subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
OK let’s look at the second use now. It’s different to the first and it’s very common.
We use the present perfect to talk about our experiences – so things that did or didn’t happen to us. We’re not talking about actions that are still continuing here. They’re finished actions that happened in the past, but we use the present perfect because we can still feel the effects of these actions in the present. Notice the time these things happened is vague. We just mean ‘at some time in the past’.
If I ask you ‘Have you ever had a performance review?’ I mean at some time in your life, but it’s not important when. The time is indefinite. You can use the adverbs ever, never, or before here. They all work. Or you can use no adverb. That works too. It’s up to you.
Notice that if the time is definite, we use the past tense, not the present perfect. So what often happens is we use the present perfect to introduce a topic, and then we switch to the past when we start talking about a specific time.
OK, so that was the second use. Let’s see the third one now.
OK. It’s similar to the second one. You’ll see an example in the story.
And then the next question you’ll get is ‘What are your goals for the future?
Well that’s exciting. I’ve just bought a book about time management to help me improve my productivity.
By how much? They’ll want a figure.
OK, I’m going to improve my productivity by 20%!
That’s not good?
Well, the thing is, if you set your goals too high, you might not achieve them.
Good point. Then 10% perhaps?
Mmmm. You’ve got to be realistic.
This office is so busy. Perhaps you should say you’ll maintain your productivity. Keep it at the same level. Do you think you can maintain it?
Well that’s great then. OK, the final thing they’ll ask you is for feedback about your managers.
Oh well. Everyone’s been very nice to me and Kathy’s very supportive.
Tut tut tut.
Well, they want to know the truth so they can improve.
But that is the truth.
Yeah, but they want you to think of things they’ve done wrong.
I can’t think of anything.
Ooo. That’s a problem. No creativity.
Oh I see. Creativity is important. Should I make things up?
Has Kathy ever done something you didn’t like?
Well, once I wanted to fly business class and she said it was too expensive.
Well, tell them about that and say you’re upset about it.
But I’m not upset.
They can’t improve if you don’t give them ideas.
Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way before.
You’re giving me such bad advice!
This story’s not going to end well for me.
We’ll look at the end in a minute, but first let’s look at the last way we use the present perfect.
Here’s the final use for the present perfect. We use it to talk about past actions that have results in the present. So these are finished actions again. But we use the present perfect because they’re important now. It could be because the results of the action are important or it could be because it’s news. In this use, the actions generally happened pretty recently – so not a long time ago – more recently.
Here are the adverbs that you’ll sometimes hear with this use: just, yet and already. And notice that the time is indefinite again. With definite times we use the past tense, not the present perfect. So again, what often happens is we use the present perfect to introduce a topic, and then we switch to the past when we start talking about a specific event.
With this third use, there are some differences in the way Vicki and I use the present perfect.
American and British English differences.
We’ve made another video about them.
I’ll put the link here so you can check it out.
And now it’s time to finish the story.
Before we do, if you’ve enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up.
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So are you ready for your performance review now.
Yes, I know exactly what I’m going to tell management.
Excellent. Well, let’s hear it then?
I’m going to tell them I haven’t achieved any of my goals this year, and that the only reason I’ve gotten anything done is because of my co-workers. That I’m not going to improve my productivity and that I’m very upset because I can’t fly business class.
That’s perfect! Well done! Now what’s the time? Do you need to get going?
Oh yes. Thank you very much. Vicki. You’ve been really helpful.
Oh no problem. Good luck!