We use the perfect tenses to describe actions that have been completed or that happened at some time before we are speaking (this is what “perfect” refers to in grammar). But what are the perfect tenses exactly? And how do you use them in your writing? Here, we will explain the basics, including:
- The present, past, and future perfect tenses and how they each work.
- What the perfect progressive (or perfect continuous) tenses are.
To find out more, check out the full guide below.
The Present Perfect Tense
Despite being a “present” tense, the present perfect tense typically refers to something that occurred in the past but has some relevance to the present.
It can describe something that began in the past and continues into the present:
I have lived here for six years.
She has always trained on a Sunday.
But it can also describe an experience up to the present moment or something that happened in the past that affects the present:
I have seen the movie three times.
He has lost his pants, so he can’t go out.
And it can refer to a recently completed action:
She has finished her homework.
In all cases, though, using the present perfect means combining “have” or “has” with a past participle verb (as highlighted in the examples above).
The Past Perfect Tense
The past perfect tense is used to describe something that happened by a stated time in the past or before another action. For example:
I had already left by the time she arrived.
They had finished work, so they went for a walk.
We had been to France twice before we saw the Eiffel Tower.
As shown above, this tense combines “had” with a past participle.
The Future Perfect Tense
We use the future perfect tense to talk about something we know will have finished between by a stated point in the future:
You will have finished college by next July.
I will have turned 18 before Christmas.
They will have eaten dinner by the time you get home.
It is formed by combining “will have” and a past participle:
The Perfect Progressive Tenses
Each of the tenses above has a “progressive” version. These are used to talk about ongoing actions in relation to a particular timeframe:
Present Perfect Progressive
I have been reading Moby Dick this evening.
Past Perfect Progressive
He had been reading Moby Dick for a month.
Future Perfect Progressive
I will have been reading Moby Dick for two weeks by the time I finish.
They are all made by combining some form of the phrase “have been” with a present participle verb. You can read more about the progressive tenses here.
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