The Unfinished Past

The present perfect

· Grammar

Bringing the past into the present

The present perfect is used for the unfinished past.


This can be confusing for some people, but the present perfect is one of the most common aspects of English. When people talk about things that have already happened, but consider the time or duration of their occurrence as unfinished, they use the third form of the verb, also called the past participle:


  • write/wrote/written
  • see/saw/seen
  • experience/experienced/experienced, etc.

...together with a helping verb. Helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs, are will, must, should, can, etc. They help clarify the main verb (auxiliary verbs specify 'future,' 'possibility,' 'obligation,' etc., hence "helping verbs").

The helping verb for the present perfect tense (or unfinished past) is "to have."

  • I have drunk three glasses of milk today (today is not finished)
  • They have lived next to us since the war (they are still living next to us today)
  • Britney has run the Maseru Marathon four times (she may run it again).


We use it…

for something that started in the past and continues in the present:

  1. They've lived together for almost 40 years.
  2. Timmy has played Matlama F.C. all his life.
  3. I’ve taught English since 1990.

when we are talking about our experience up to the present moment:

  1. I've seen that movie before.
  2. We’ve been together since we were teenagers.
  3. Rethabile has written four books of poetry.

for something that happened in the past but is important now:

  1. We have finished.
  2. She can’t get into flat. She’s lost her keys.
  3. They have (already) eaten.

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