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For many English learners, it is often difficult to understand why the present perfect tense is necessary or how to use it. For example, why say I have seen when one could simply say I saw? That depends on the context.
We use the simple past tense for finished actions. We use the present perfect tense for unfinished actions (I have been here for 30 minutes) or for experiences (I have climbed Kilimanjaro). The present perfect tense is formed by combining have/has with the third form of the verb.
We use the present perfect for actions that were completed just now or recently. For example:
The meeting has just ended.
She has decided not to eat meat again.
In both examples, we do not know exactly when the actions took place. However, we know from the use of the present perfect tense that it was recent (a time not long ago).
We also use the present perfect when a past action has a present effect. It answers the question, ‘why can’t/ haven’t you?’ For example:
- I have lost my key.
(The key ‘went’ missing in the past, but it still hasn’t been found. So, why can’t you go into your apartment? Because you’ve lost your key)
- My paycheck hasn’t arrived.
(The check was supposed to arrive in the past, but it still hasn’t. So, why can’t you pay for your rent? Because your paycheck hasn’t arrived)
- The clients haven’t replied to my email.
(They were supposed to reply in the past, but they still haven’t. So, why haven’t you informed your boss about their demands? Because they haven’t replied to your email).
A more common use of the present perfect is for an action that started in the past and is still ongoing. For example:
(1) I have lived in Hamburg for a long time vs
(2) I lived in Hamburg for a long time.
Although both speakers lived in Hamburg for a long time, the speaker in the first sentence still lives in Hamburg, whereas the speaker in the second sentence no longer does.
We also use the present perfect with words or phrases that mean ‘time up to now.’ They include so far, yet, ever, in the past days or years, this year, today, and up to now.
Have you secured the website yet?
I haven’t seen him so far.
Have you ever had lunch with them?
She hasn’t spoken to him today, but he might.
We haven’t had rain in the past few weeks.
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