Present Perfect or Past Perfect?

How do you choose between the Present Perfect and Past Perfect?

Both Present Perfect and Past Perfect are used to talk about something that happened before a point in time (reference point).

In the Present Perfect, our reference point is the present.

  • My mother has just gone to the store.

In the Past Perfect, our reference point is in the past.

  • had been to Japan twice by the time I was 10 years old.

Here’s a depiction of this difference:

present perfect vs past perfect
via https://englishlive.ef.com/blog/language-lab/english-grammar-help-present-perfect-and-past-perfect/

Present Perfect or Past Perfect?

So, how do you choose between the Present Perfect and Past Perfect?

Present Perfect

The Present Perfect is used to talk about an action that took place in the recent past and is still relevant to the present moment.

  • The bus has left and we have to wait for another one.

The structure is:

have / has + Past Participle

The common usages of Present Perfect are:

  1. to put emphasis on the result: – She has broken a cup.
  2. to express an action that started in the past and continues up to the present: – I have worked for this company for 10 years.
  3. to talk about life experiences: – I’ve never traveled alone.
  4. to say about an action repeated in an unspecified period between the past and now: – I have visited them many times.
  5. when the precise time of action is not important or unknown: – Someone has stolen my bike!

Past Perfect

The Past Perfect is used to talk about an action that took place before another moment in the past.

  • The bus had left before we arrived to the station.

The structure is:

had + Past Participle

The common usages of Past Perfect are:

  1. to express an action taking place before a certain time in the past; when we want to put emphasis on the fact, not the duration: – Before Jemmy arrived here, she had spoken to him.
  2. to report what people had thought/said/believed/told: He told me that he had already watched this movie.

Comparing

Consider the following examples:

Present PerfectPast Perfect
have / has + Past Participlehad + Past Participle
I am so excited. I have just passed my exam.I was so excited. I had passed my exam.
We’ve finished the game and now we have dinner.We’d finished the game when mom called us for dinner.
His team has won and he’s very happy.His team had won, so he went to the bar to celebrate their victory.

In this video you’ll find more examples and explanation of the difference between Present Perfect and Past Perfect:

See also:

Present Perfect Continuous or Past Perfect Continuous?

Present Perfect or Past Simple?

Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous?

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