Writing Using the Present Perfect Tense

Present Perfect Tense

Present Perfect Tense
Those of you who have been following us for a while might know that I used to work as an English teacher. Some of you might even have been in the same profession in the past. While I do love writing day in and day out, I do miss teaching at times – especially when I see humorous images like the one above.

Ah, the present perfect tense. It sure did bring many an ESL learner to his knees. (Either that or the learner simply killed me in his mind.)

While the infographic offers comic relief to English teachers and learners alike, the present perfect tense does play a huge – and serious – role in writing. The use of the present perfect tense may not be critical in some cases, but in academic/scientific/technical writing, this verb tense is used a lot. This is due to the fact that the present perfect tense is often used when referring to research or trends. See the examples below.

Recent studies have shown that coffee may help achieve weight loss.
In the past year, tablets have become the writer’s best friend.

So let’s do a quick review of the present perfect tense, shall we?

Forming the Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense is formed by using “to have” and the past participle of the main verb. As you can see in the examples above, “have” always precedes the main verb in its past participle form.

Using the Present Perfect Tense

This is where it gets murky for learners of the language. Let’s make it simple and look at the three main uses of this tense.

One, to refer to something that happened in the past but still applies to the present.

Example: She has lived in Portland since she was teenager. (She lived in Portland when she was a teenager. She still lives in Portland today.)

Two, to refer to an experience in the past. This also applies to activities that have not been experienced.

Example: I have never gone sky diving, but I have gone bungee jumping.

Three, to refer to something which has just happened.

Example: She is running late, but she has just arrived from the airport.

I have found that simplifying the uses of this verb tenses works most of the time. Or maybe, I just didn’t know it, but my students either thought they understood or they dreamt of killing me.

When it comes to writing, though, I do not think I prefer using certain verb tenses over others. I simply use what is most appropriate and pay attention to consistency. How about you?





3 responses
  1. Natasha Avatar

    Ahhh yes, the present perfect tense. This was always a tricky one when teaching English and has led to many a pedantic conversation with other fellow English teachers/grammar dweebs like myself…..

    I always felt bad for the students when they can’t quite grapple something despite their best efforts. As a learner of foreign languages myself, I know how frustrating it can be to think you’ve finally got it under your belt only to then be knocked back again by some weird rule you’d overlooked, or a teacher innocently pointing out that in fact, you’re not quite there yet (the infographic illustrates student response to this beautifully).

    Something that really gets me is when NATIVE english speakers make the cardinal sin of replacing “have” with “of”……”I would of read a book, but video games were much cooler…” (Proof that the third conditional is still possibly the most mind-boggling of them all.) There is nothing that makes me seethe more than the butchering of a beautiful language by natives. Foreigners – by all means, butcher away as you’re learning, that’s what language discovery is all about. But natives…ugh, absolute hell on earth!

  2. Jeri B Avatar

    This was helpful; however, I am confused. This is how I would write the sentence.
    Instead of “she has lived” I would write: “she lived”
    Is that wrong? I classify the words “have” and “has” as unnecessary wordiness. My writing is professional, not creative, and mostly grant and proposal writing.

    1. tom Avatar

      Well it isn’t wrong if “she” no longer lives there. “She lived” is past simple, used for finished actions in the past. If “she” still lives in the place, you must must use has. She has lived in London for 5 years (and still does). She lived in London for 5 years (but now lives somewhere else)

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