Present Perfect: Two Uses

Have you ever tried to explain the present perfect tense?

The present perfect is a common tense in English, but it is one of the tougher ones to learn. First of all, there are two distinct uses. Second of all, one use is similar to the simple past, and the other is very similar to the present perfect progressive (also known as the present perfect continuous).

What’s the best way to present and explain all this to your students? For lower-level learners, present the two uses on different days. For higher-level learners, present the two uses at the same time so that they realize why they hear the present perfect used in different contexts. And, of course, give them plenty of examples and practice!

Use 1: Finished Actions


Use 2: Continuing Actions


For a comparison of the present perfect and the present perfect progressive, see the chart and examples in next week’s blog post.


Overall, your students should be able to easily remember Use 1 by thinking of the “when/no when” rule (when = simple past, no when = present perfect). Use 2 is easy when you teach the present perfect alone, but trickier when you compare it with the present perfect progressive. Next week’s blog post, Present Perfect Vs. Present Perfect Progressive, will have charts and tips comparing these two tenses.

Make sure you reinforce that the present perfect (have + p.p.) can be used for a continuing action, not just a completed past action. Students often have trouble remembering this since all other continuous tenses in English use an -ing verb. Also, some textbooks only focus on Use 1 and don’t mention the continuing meaning of the present perfect, but it is very common and should be taught.

Note that as a time marker, still has two meanings and uses, so be careful that your students don’t get confused. Still can be used with the present perfect for a finished past action (as in Use 1, above), but it can also be used with the present progressive to emphasize an ongoing action, as in I am still waiting for your call. Students can easily keep these tenses straight by noticing the sentence patterns: still + have + not + p.p. for the present perfect, and be + still + -ing verb for the present progressive.


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Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Nico says:

    Dec 05, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Hi, what about the duration form built using: have/has + been + -ing form of main verb ?
    Example: I have been studying english for two years now

  2. Kristopher says:

    Dec 03, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Hi Tanya,

    What about the use of present perfect to imply experiential significance?
    “I went to Tibet.” vs. “I have been to Tibet.”


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 05, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Kristopher,

      I usually teach the difference between the simple past and the present perfect by pointing out that if the time is known (from the context or directly in the sentence), then the simple past should be used. If the time isn’t known, then use the present perfect.

      – I went to Tibet last year.
      – I’ve been to Tibet.

      I haven’t come across or thought of using the present perfect to imply experiential significance before, but I agree that there are many nuances to any grammar point. By all means, teach your higher-level learners the finer details, but maybe don’t overwhelm your lower-level students with them. :)

  3. Doreen says:

    Nov 30, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing, Tanya! Yours is by far the clearest and the best explanation! Impressive!
    Blessings for a glorious season!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 30, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you for your sweet words, Doreen! Season’s greetings to you too. :)

      • Doreen says:

        Dec 01, 2016 at 2:18 pm

        You are most welcome, Tanya! Thank you very much. : )

  4. Samia says:

    Nov 04, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you. AVery Useful work

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 07, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks, Samia! Glad you find it useful!

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