The present perfect is used to indicate a link between the present and the past. The time of the action is before now but not specified, and we are often more interested in the result than in the action itself.
It is used to describe:
- An action or situation that started in the past and continues in the present. I have lived in Bristol since 1984 (= and I still do.)
- An action performed during a period that has not yet finished. She has been to the cinema twice this week (= and the week isn't over yet.)
- A repeated action in an unspecified period between the past and now. We have visited Portugal several times.
- An action that was completed in the very recent past, expressed by 'just'. I have just finished my work.
- An action when the time is not important. He has read 'War and Peace'. (= the result of his reading is important)
We use the present perfect simple to refer to events in the past but which connect to the present.
We use the present perfect simple to talk about our experiences up to now. The time of the experiences is not important:
[talking about musical theatre productions]
And I’ve seen ‘Buddy’ and I’ve seen ‘Starlight Express’ in London. And I want to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ next.
We’re going to Wagamama’s for dinner tonight. I’ve been there a couple of times before.
Although we do not give a specific time, we often use general time expressions like ever, never, before, in my life, so far, up until now with this use of the present perfect simple:
We haven’t met before, have we?
They’ve sold 110 so far. (so far = from a point in the past up until now)
We often use ever, not … ever and never when we talk about experiences:
It was the worst performance we have ever seen.
Have you ever tried to write your name and address with your left hand?
She’s never said sorry for what she did.
We often use the present perfect simple for a unique experience when we are using a superlative:
I felt the happiest I have ever felt. My first Olympic final; the bronze medal; European record of 9.97 seconds.
The dome of the Blue Mosque at Isfahan is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
It was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
It’s the worst sports programme I have ever seen and the first I have ever turned off.
We usually use the present perfect simple with the first time when we’re talking about an immediate, continuing or recent event:
That’s the first time I’ve seen you get angry.
Recent completed events
We use the present perfect simple to talk about a finished event or state in the very recent past. We do not give a specific time. We often use words like just or recently for events taking place a very short time before now:
What’s this? What’s just happened?
The company employs around 400 staff and has recently opened an office in the UK.
Niki and John have just come back from a week in Spain.
Past events, present results
We use the present perfect simple when a single past action has a connection with the present:
She’s broken her arm in two places. (Her arm is still broken now.)
Why haven’t you dressed in something warmer? (You got dressed in the past but the clothes are not warm enough for now.)
A fire has broken out at a disused hotel on the seafront. (The fire is burning now; it’s a recent event too.)
Your flowers haven’t arrived. (Your flowers are not here; they were supposed to arrive in the past.)
Time + for and since
We use the present perfect simple with for and since to talk about a present situation that began at a specific point in the past and is still going on in the present. We are looking back from the present to a point in the past.
For refers to periods of time, e.g. three years, four hours, ages, a long time, months, years.
Since refers to a previous point in time, e.g. last Monday, last year, 1987, yesterday.
The house was empty in 2006 and it is still empty now. (speaking in 2011)
How long …?
We often use expressions with for and since to answer the question How long …+ present perfect simple. We use the How long …? question to ask about the duration of a state or activity:
How long have you worked there?B:
Since 21 August. So for about four months.
We use yet + the present perfect simple, mainly in questions and negative statements, to refer to things we intend to do in the future but which are not done:
Don’t wash up that cup. I haven’t finished my coffee yet. (I intend to finish it.)
Haven’t you done your homework yet? (You intend to do it.)
We use already + the present perfect simple when we want to emphasise that something is done or achieved, often before the expected time:
I’ve already booked my flight home.
Will you go and clean your teeth!B:
I’ve already cleaned them.
We use still + the present perfect simple when we want to emphasise that something we expected to happen continues not to happen:
She still hasn’t said sorry to me.
I feel really tired. I still haven’t recovered from the jet lag.
Introducing past time events
The present perfect simple is often used in newspaper headlines or TV news programmes to report a recent past event. It is then followed by a series of verbs in the past simple (underlined):
Charlton Heston has died aged 84, a spokesman for his family has said. Heston died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. His wife Lydia, whom he married in 1944, was at his side. Heston won a best actor Oscar for his starring role in the epic ‘Ben Hur’.
We can also use the present perfect simple to introduce an ‘open’ general point about something. We can then use the past simple (underlined) to give more detailed specific information:
Have you seen any Arthur Miller plays? I saw a fantastic production of ‘The Crucible’.
In American English the past simple is often used instead of the present perfect simple, often with already and yet.
When to use for and since with the present perfect?
For and since are used with the present perfect to indicate time. For is used to say how long something has been the case (e.i. the duration.) Since, however, is used to say that something has been true from a particular time in the past until now.
Used with the present perfect, for indicates the duration, that is how long something has lasted or has continued:
- I have been in this town for a long time.
- He has known her for six years.
Use since to say that something has been true from a particular time in the past until now.
- I have been in this town since I was 10 years old.
- He has known her since 2008.