How to Not Kill Yourself with the Present Perfect

The Present Perfect

That’s right you guys, another annoying grammar subject. To try to make this one interesting let’s start with a compilation of some great songs (subjective) and see if you can guess what today’s topic is…

You may have guessed, it’s the Present Perfect.

When it comes to teaching/learning the present perfect in English things start to seem a little complicated, especially because there’s no direct translation in Portuguese. A lot of books and online materials break this down into many different categories but today we will only talk about two.

Before we get too deep into this subject let me suggest that you spend some time practicing the irregular verbs, here’s an awesome link to a great resource.

Put it on your Mp3 player, sing it on your way to work or college.

Structure

I’m not going to explain the structure right now in full detail. Take a look at this link for a more in depth explanation.

Here’s the general ideal.

Positive: I/You/We/ They + Have + Verb (participle)
He/She/It + Has + Verb (participle)
Negative: Subject + Haven’t/Hasn’t + Verb (participle)
Question: Have/Has + Subject + Verb (Participle).

Example:
• I have been to Rio de Janeiro / I haven’t been to Rio/ Have you been to Rio?
• He has washed his clothes twice this week / He hasn’t washed his clothes this week/ Has he washed his clothes this week?
• Bob has lost his keys / Bob hasn’t found his keys/ Has Bob lost his keys?

So that’s the grammatical structure but I can hear you asking, how do I use this grammar tense. So in this article I’m going to explain just 2 ways of using the Present Perfect and some good tips to help you practice.

I have… Have you…? Undefined past

Using the present perfect like this is great to start a conversation, when meeting new people and finding out about similar interests. One of the questions I always ask people when I meet them is;
“Have you been to Australia?” Why do I say this and not DID you go to Australia?

In this case we ask the question in the Present Perfect because it’s not related to a specific time in the past. If I say, Did you go to Australia?, I’m talking about a specific time that has finished in the past, for example:
Did you go to Australia last year/ last Christmas/ for your dad’s birthday?

Have you would be the same as saying Você já…? In Portuguese. So, that’s the first way “Você já…” questions. Think about some question you could ask a friend?

Have you seen the Avengers?
Have you played that new Xbox game?
Have you ever seen Bob Dylon play?
*ever is used to emphasis that you’re talking about their whole life. (uma vez na sua vida você já…?)

Another important thing to remember with the Present Perfect is that we can never use a time reference that has finished, and it still has to be possible to do the action in the future.

Which question is incorrect:

Have you ever seen Paul Mcartney play live?
Have you ever seen John Lennon play live?

The incorrect question would be the one about john Lennon. When I use a “Have you” question the action has to be something that is still possible to do in the future. Unfortunately, John Lennon died so it would be impossible to see him play in the future, the question would be “Did you ever see John Lennon play live?”

So if we can’t use a time reference that has already finished we have to use one that is still happening for example:

• Today
• This Week/Month/Year
• Recently/Lately

So try to think of some things you have done today.

Today
I have had breakfast/ Drunk some coffee/ Played the guitar/
This Week
I have been to a few bars/ Meet some friends/ Seen a movie.

Now make some examples for yourself and questions for another person using He/She has.

I have been for/ since:

The second way we are going to discuss is the How long have you question. This is when we ask about an action that started in the past and now continues to happen in the future.

• How long have you lived in Brazil?
• How long have you worked here?
• How long have you known Bob?

This is the one that people often say in the Present Continuous. How many times have you said this before:

I am driving a car for 5 years/ He is married for 6 months/ She is working here for 2 weeks.

This is a very common mistake amongst Brazilians. Don’t worry if you’re remembering the amount of times you’ve said this, in most cases the person will still understand you which is the most important part.

We should actually say:
I have driven a car for 5 years/ He has been married for 6 months/ She has worked here for 2 weeks.

In this example with the car, I’m saying I got my license 5 years ago and I still have it. The action stated in the past and is still happening.

For

When we use for we are talking about the duration of time we have done that activity.
For: 2 hours, 5 weeks, 10 years.
I have known this guy for 10 years.

Since

Since is used when we go back to the time the activity started.
For example the year it started, specific dates etc…
I’ve played football since I was a child / since 1995 / since Christmas.

So, that’s my explanation of the Present Perfect. One of the biggest problems that people have would be actually hearing it being used. In a conversation when we use this most people would use the contracted form: I have = I’ve / She has = She’s, etc.

Because this is said so fast by native speakers it’s sometimes difficult to notice when the Present Perfect being used. The best advice I could give to any language learner is to use best tool you have, and you have two of them on the side of you head, your ears. Don’t focus too much on perfecting your grammar, try exposing yourself to the language as much as possible with movies, TV series and my favorite music. Try it right now with another great video compilation.

Ok guys that’s it for today. Remember if you have any questions about the Present Perfect or any other questions feel free to post them on this blog or on the Real Life English Facebook page and we will respond as soon as possible.

More to come soon on this topic. If you found this article helpful, we greatly appreciate your feedback, participation, likes,sharing and telling your friends about us. If you haven’t already, join the free and open Real Life English Facebook Community and join our mailing list. And of course, we hope to see you at our next Real Life English Event!

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10 Comments

  1. Nataša Pajestková on May 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    The mistakes you mentioned are common in Czech schools as well. 🙂

  2. Rodrigo Penna on July 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Excellent article, Chad!

  3. Izabel Pillon on July 27, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I have studied hard this article!( it´s correct).

  4. Daniele Pimentel on February 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Hey you guys! You’re the best ever! I loved this post!
    I’m Brazilian and I think Past Participle Tense is one of the most hard things to learn in English! Phrasal Verbs too! But with these wonderful explanations I think I could learn a little more…

    Thank you so much you guys!

  5. Sergio Rodrigues on February 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    When we use “I have been living here for 5 years now” is this “now” used just fof emphasis or is it necessary? Just “for ….years” isn’t suffice?

  6. Valdelino Lourenço on November 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    awesome.

  7. Ironmau Hernández on June 17, 2016 at 11:37 am

    You are gorgeous, your explanation is very useful and simple, tanks a lot.
    Best regards.

  8. Ironmau Hernández on June 17, 2016 at 11:37 am

    You are gorgeous, your explanation is very useful and simple, tanks a lot.
    Best regards.

  9. rivery on September 15, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Actually I’ve been studying this grammar structure since long time ago and at the very beginning it was tough and confusing although nowadays I still make mistakes in this. Looking forward to buy this wonderful course and then being able to master my English with you guys. greetings from Colombia.

    • Justin Murray on September 15, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Hey rivery, Thanks for reading and commenting. That’s awesome that you’re benefiting from RealLife. Mistakes are fine, just keep going and doing your best to fix them. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns!

      Cheers,

      Justin

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