English grammar help: present perfect and past perfect

English grammar help: present perfect and past perfect

Some of the most confusing tenses in the English language are the present perfect and past perfect. They become especially confusing when you have to identify which tense to use and which one is being used. So today, let’s practice both of those tenses.

Present perfect:

The present perfect is formed by using ‘has’ or ‘have’ and the past participle of the verb. For example, “I have watched the movie” or “She has watched the movies.”

So when do you use the present perfect? That is a great question. We use the present perfect when we are talking about an event that started in the past and the event still has some influence in the present. This influence could be something that you have experienced in your life that still has an impact on your life. It could also be used for things that have changed over a time, or a task that was unfinished in the past and will be completed in the future. Let’s take a look at each example:

An experience: “I have been to India.”

Change over time: “Her English has improved since she joined EF English Live.”

An unfinished task: “He has not finished cleaning the house. “

All of these tasks started in the past, but something about them still applies in the present time. Something about them could change in the present or future.

Past perfect:

This is formed by combining ‘had’ with the past participle of the verb.

The past perfect is very similar to the present perfect because the event also started in the past. However, the difference between the events is that the past perfect event also ended in the past. This can be used with a specified time. For example, “I had studied in China last year”. This also implies the event happened a long time ago.

This diagram may help to explain further:


Also, a confusion that students tend to have is when they see ‘have had’ placed together in a sentence. For example, “I have had a cold”. So is this the present perfect because of ‘have’, or is the past perfect because of ‘had’? In order to identify the correct tense, always look at the first ‘have’ or ‘had.” In this sentence, we first used ‘have’, therefore this sentence is the present perfect.


Image: Alejandro Escamilla.

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  1. I am somal girl & i am 18 years old i live in mogadishu .
    Now i am in university(Horn of Africa ).I want to study well english language .
    So i like to help me for this language .

    1. My experience is arts , i like to drawing
      On the future i like be Engineer department of design to civil

  2. Is there any impact to now with your example as Past Perfect sentence?
    “I had studied in China last year”
    In my opinion, the impact of his/her study is still to now. This is like experience sentence!

    1. It all depends on the context. I believe in this particular example they are talking about events that started and ended in the past not about personal experience which in fact lasts for life.

  3. how about when the question didn’t really specify the time frame. which one should we use? present perfect or past perfect?

    for example:
    1. I _________ arranged for the party to be done in a five-star hotel. (have / had)
    2. None of them __________ brought the book to the class. (has / had)

  4. When do you use the present perfect?
    When do you use the past participle?

    since they are conjugated in the same way, so what is the difference between them?

  5. Are the following two sentences in the present perfect or in the past participle.

    Is there a difference between the present perfect tense and the past participle form?

    I think that they are the same but one is the tense and the other is the form?
    If they are, when do you use one or the other?

  6. Hello, I have a question.
    Why would we use Past perfect in this sentence when there’s no indication of something happening before something else? And last year is a marker of Past simple.

  7. This is a great explanation that I can use for my English language learners. The examples and diagram are super helpful!
    Thank you!

  8. Thanks for you explanation, its help me a lot, sorry for my bad english, I am still learning…

  9. so what is he difference between simple past and past perfect ?
    they two start in the past and finished in the past

  10. Does the present and past perfect tense ALWAYS begin with ‘have/has’ and ‘had’ followed by the past participle?

    the to be verb when used as an auxiliary verb is followed by present or past participle. Therefore, is the following sentence in past perfect form? If not past perfect, what form is this sentence?

    Susan’s house was redecorated by someone.

    1. It (Susan’s house) was (simple past tense) redecorated (passive verb) by (after a passive verb identifying the agent performing the action ->) someone.

  11. so what is he difference between simple past and past perfect ?
    they two start in the past and finished in the past

    1. Hi Laid,
      Both tenses, simple past and past perfect, are used to talk about things that happened in the past. We use past perfect to talk about something that happened before another action in the past, which is usually expressed by the simple past.

  12. Hi I’m an Iranian and I had a problem with this grammer but now I don’t have any problem so thanks for your help.


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