Present Perfect Tense for Unfinished Past

The Present Perfect tense has a number of uses. One of them is to express situations which started in the past and continue into the present. Here are some examples:

Meaning

We may use the Present Perfect to talk about actions or events that started in the past but continue to the present or to describe something we have done several times in the past and continue to do.

Present Perfect illustration
via https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/present-perfect-tense

Consider the following examples:

  • I’m a teacher.
  • I started teaching ten year ago.
  • I’ve been a teacher for ten years.
  • (NOT: I am a teacher for ten years.
  • NOT: I’ve been a teacher ten years ago.)
  • My best friend’s name is Gary.
  • met him three years ago.
  • I’ve known him for three years.
  • (NOT: I know him for three years.
  • NOT: I’ve known him three years ago.)
  • I have a car.
  • My Dad gave it to me a long time ago.
  • I’ve had it for ages.
  • (NOT: I have it for ages.
  • NOT: I’ve had a long time ago.)

These examples indicate that the action began at a time before now. Additionally, these actions continue on into the present and will likely extend to the future.

Note: ‘Be’, ‘know’ and ‘have’ are state verbs so we don’t usually use them in their
continuous forms.

– be → been- know → known

With action verbs, we can use Present Perfect Simple or Present Perfect Continuous:

I’ve learned English for five years.  – I’ve been learning English for five years.

– He has worked here since 2015. – He has been working here since 2015.

Present Perfect structure

Let’s revise how Present Perfect is formed.

Positive form

[subject] + have/has + Past Participle

  • He has written three books and he is working on another one.
  • I’ve played the guitar since I was a teenager.

Negative form

[subject] + haven’t/hasn’t + Past Participle

  • I haven’t seen my mother for 2 months.
  • She hasn’t been abroad for years.

Questions

have/has + [subject] + Past Participle

  • Have they lived here all their lives?
  • Has he known Julie for ten years?

Common signal words

We use:

for + ages / ten years / six months / two weeks / fifteen minutes
a period of time
since + 2015 / March / last summer / yesterday / this morning / 10.00
a point in time

Present Perfect & Past Simple

We use the Present Perfect to talk about a situation or action which is not finished.

We use the Past Simple when we talk about completed past actions.

Compare:

  • Tom lives in New York. He has lived there for two years. (Present Perfect)
  • Before that, he lived in San Francisco for a year.  (Past Simple)

Watch this short video to learn about the use of Present Perfect for unfinished past:

See also:

Present Perfect or Past Simple?

Present Perfect: Statements

Present Perfect: Negative & Questions

Present Perfect for Experience

Present Perfect with ‘Just’ and ‘Yet’

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