The Present Perfect tense – not really Present, and seldom Perfect…

12 Sep

This tense causes a lot of confusion for learners of English. Look at these examples:

1) “Susan ate an apple yesterday.” – Simple Past tense.

2) “Susan has eaten an apple today.” – Present Perfect tense.

What is the difference between these sentences? Why do we use the Simple Past in the first sentence, and the Present Perfect in the second one?

Think about it like this: In the sentence “Susan ate an apple yesterday”, the action is finished, it can’t be changed. It is gone forever. But in “Susan has eaten an apple today”, it is PERHAPS NOT finished, because “today” is not finished. Today only finishes at midnight. So, it is possible that Susan could eat some more apples today, or maybe some other fruit. In other words, in “Susan has eaten an apple today”, the action may still be continuing in the present time. That’s why it is called the PRESENT Perfect. (There is another reason why it is called the PRESENT Perfect: because it uses the present tense of the verb “have/has”)

So, how can you decide whether to use the Simple Past or the Present Perfect? Fortunately there are some “time words” that help us. For example, when you want to express times like “never”, “not yet” and “today”, you use the Present Perfect, not the Simple Past. The picture below shows many of these words (click on the picture to make it larger).

Present Perfect


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