How to use the Present Perfect verb tense like a native speaker

One of the trickiest parts of English grammar is the verb tense system. It’s notorious for being very  hard to learn.  And it doesn’t make sense to a lot of non-native speakers. There are very few who can master it easily or quickly. Sometimes it takes years. Many have given up on ever being able to use it properly. In fact, the hardest tenses of all of them are the perfect tenses

And one of the trickiest of them is the Present Perfect tense. It’s probably the one I spend the most time teaching. Everyone knows “how long have you been in San Francisco?” “Have you been waiting long?” But after that, it’s gets blurry. That’s why I’m writing this “How to use the Present Perfect verb tense like a Boss” blog for all you non-native speakers out there.

Ok there are two basic rules and here’s the first one.

Until Now

1.If the action or state started in the past and continues up to the present.  I’ve known Jill for four years. We’ve been working on the same team for about half of that time. We’ve been involved in projects together as consultants since 2018. And she’s been one of my best mentors for most of the time.

Notice how each of the sentences relates something that started at some time in the past and is still the case.

The second rule is:

Non-specific Time in the Past

2.Present perfect is also used to talk about actions or states that occurred in the past, but the specific time is not important. You’ve probably noticed that native speakers will ask “Have you seen the new Marvel movie?” They usually don’t ask “Did you see the new Marvel movie?” That’s because for the purposes of that conversation at that moment, it’s not important WHEN you saw it.

I’ve worked in consulting but it’s mostly been in the medical field. I’ve been involved in numerous projects with high level clients throughout the US. I’ve also done much of the research on most of these projects, and I’ve always brought a high level of efficiency and awesome results.

Ok so you’ll notice there are no specific times in that paragraph. The speaker is not thinking of any specific consulting jobs. It’s just a kind of superficial overview with no details.

And that is a very good way of thinking about Present Perfect. It’s not story telling. For storytelling, we use Simple Past. With Present Perfect, you’re just giving an overview of some circumstance or experience but without the granular detail. A common formula in native speaker conversation is to start with Present Perfect: “Have you ever been to NY?” And then move on to the story details in Simple Past: “Yes, I’ve been there quite a few times. The last time was in 2019 when I visited my friends for about a week. It was great. We went to a bunch of museums, saw some shows, and had some incredible food!

So there you have it. Now you can use Present Perfect like a boss!

And as an extra bonus, here’s a blog I wrote that will help with the Past Perfect:






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