The Present Perfect

In this lesson you’ll learn the meaning of the perfect tense and how it is constructed and used with the present tense as the present perfect.

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Lesson: How to Use the Perfect

The Mistake English Learners Make

The biggest problems students have with the perfect (in this order) are using the present perfect too much (instead of the past simple), not using the present perfect when they should (and using the present simple or present continuous instead), and not using the past and future perfect when they should (and using the past and future simple instead).
 

Wrong Ways And Right Ways For Situations In Which Lots Of Learners Would Use The Perfect


“I have gone to the forest last weekend.”
-> “I went to the forest last weekend.”
“I study English for 3 years.” AND “I am studying English for 3 years.”-> “I have studied English for 3 years.”
“I felt good. I slept a lot.” -> “I felt good. I had slept a lot.” AND “I’ll know a lot. I’ll study a lot.” -> “I’ll know a lot. I’ll have studied a lot.”

What To Understand To Avoid These Mistakes

The perfect means that the verb has a result, which can be either because something that happened before somehow caused something somehow important at the moment being talked about (past, present, or future) or because there is a count of the actions of the verb up to that moment.

 

Practical Tip

 

Only use the present perfect for counts of actions of verbs up to the moment and OTHER changing, developing, evolving situations.

It’s possible to use the perfect in the present for the other perfect situation mentioned above: where something that happened before (not a count of anything) that isn’t changing, developing, evolving anymore contributed in an important way to a set of circumstances relevant at the moment. But you will practically never be wrong not to. AND, it’s dangerous to try to because unless you’ve had a lot of exposure to English at a very young age, you won’t have a good sense for when it will be right to do this or not. It’s like stabbing in the dark, and there’s really no point. It’s just as good, and right, to use the simple past in these situations.

This only applies to the present perfect though. You do need to use the perfect in the past and the future in these situations. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier then to understand when you should.

Exercise: Present Perfect or Past Simple - I

  1. I can’t login to my account. I ____________________ (to forget) my password. 

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    forgot

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  2. I ____________________ (to buy) a lot of groceries, so my refrigerator is full. 

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    bought

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  3. I meant to write you last night, but I ____________________ (to fall) asleep. 

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    fell

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  4. William ____________________ (to be) on vacation in the mountains, but is back home now. 

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    was

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  5. How are you?          I ____________________ (to have) the flu for the past couple of days but am all better now. 

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    had

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  6. Excuse me, can you help? We ____________________ (to get? OR to be?) lost. 

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    are, got, have gotten 

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Exercise: Present Perfect or Past Simple - II

  1. Did you hear about the bridge? It ____________________ (to fall) into the river. 

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    fell

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  2. Rocky Balboa ____________________ (to train) to box under [[[Mickey Goldmill]]]. 

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    trained

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  3. How many battles ____________________ (Alexander the Great / to lose)? 

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    did Alexander the Great lose

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  4. I ____________________ (to eat) a spicy burrito and now my mouth is burning. 

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    ate

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  5. The book he released a few years ago ____________________ (to become) one of the bestsellers of all time. 

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    has become

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  6. Who ____________________ (to discover) the principle of evolution? 

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    discovered

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  7. Where ____________________ (you / to graduate) from high school? 

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    did you graduate

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  8. The bridge is gone. I ____________________ (to collapse) into the river. 

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    collapsed

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  9. Isaac Newton ____________________ (to be) one of world’s great geniuses, who ____________________ (to invent) both physics and calculus. 

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    was / invented

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Exercise: Present Perfect or Past Simple - III

  1. I ____________________ (to stop) eating McDonald’s for a while, but here I am again. 

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    stopped

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  2. I toured Europe 10 years ago, and went again last month, and wow, Europe ____________________ (really / to change). 

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    has really changed

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  3. He made a lot of money this year, but he ____________________ (already / to spend) almost all of it. 

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    has already spent

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  4. The actress ____________________ (to eat) two cheeseburgers and felt guilty for the rest of the day. 

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    ate

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  5. What do you think about the band’s style? It ____________________ (to change), but ____________________ (it / to get) better? 

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    has changed / has it gotten

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  6. Are you still using the stove?          No, I ____________________ (to finish) what I was cooking. You can use it. 

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    finished

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  7. She ____________________ (to try) to run the marathon, but ended up quitting one third of the way through. 

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    tried

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  8. Where are my keys? I ____________________ (to put) them right there and now they’re gone. 

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    put

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  9. Hey, call the fire department. The store across the street ____________________ (to catch? OR to be?) on fire. 

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    is, caught, has caught 

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  10. The discount store down the street ____________________ (to burn down). Did you hear?          Really? How ____________________ (that / happen)?          Nobody knows for sure yet, but some people think the owner ____________________ (to set) the fire himself to collect the insurance money.  

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    burned down / did that happen / set

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