The Perfect Aspect: Perfect Tenses
So, now that we’ve gone over what it means when a verb tense is perfect, let’s go over the logistics. Before we can put the Perfect Aspect into use, we first have to know why we would use it and then how to construct it.
I have put together a guide below:
PRESENT PERFECT SIMPLE:
s + have/has + past participle
We use this tense to express things that started (and maybe even finished) in the past but have some sort of relevance, consequence or connection to the present moment. They could also be actions that continue or things that are still true now.
Ex: I have eaten cereal for breakfast every day since I was a child. (I began this habit a long time ago and I still do it)
I can’t call you because I’ve lost my phone. (I lost my phone earlier and now I can’t call you.)
I’ve been to Brazil twice. (In my lifetime, I travelled to Brazil two times.)
PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE (CONTINUOUS)
s + have/has + been + present participle (-ing)
Expresses actions that began in the past and are still ongoing in the present moment. They will continue until an unspecified time.
Ex: I have been eating breakfast for 30 minutes.
(I started eating breakfast 30 minutes ago and I am not finished yet.)
PAST PERFECT SIMPLE
s + had + past participle
Two actions/events that happened before the time of speaking and are completed.
Ex: I hadn’t done my homework before arriving to school.
(In the time between receiving my homework and arriving to school the next day, I did not do my homework.)
PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE (CONTINUOUS)
s + had + been + present participle (-ing)
A past action that was in progress when a second action occurred.
Ex: I had been doing my homework for two hours when my computer crashed.
(After two hours of doing homework, my computer crashed.)
FUTURE PERFECT SIMPLE
s + will + have + past participle
An action/event that will happen and be completed at a specific time in the future.
Ex: I will have cleaned my car by tomorrow morning.
(At some point between now and tomorrow morning, my car will be cleaned).
FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE (CONTINUOUS)
s + will + have + been + present participle (-ing)
An action that will be happening and will continue beyond a specific time in the future.
Ex: I will have been working here for two years next month.
(I began working here almost two years. I plan to continue working here.)
As you can see, the key to construction is in the auxiliary verb, which is always have in its appropriate form in relation to the tense, and the main verb, which is either the past participle (simple) or present participle (progressive). It may seem overwhelming but when you consider time, the construction actually makes a lot of sense. Keeping in mind that the Perfect Aspect is all about time, choosing the correct form of the auxiliary and participle is quite straightforward depending on which two points in time you want to connect.
For example: If you want to speak about something that was completed in the past but is relevant in the present, you use the Present Perfect Simple. In the sentence, I can’t call because I have lost my phone, the auxiliary is in the present tense, while the main verb is in the past participle, thus, connecting past to present.
This logic works for all tenses. The auxiliary will reflect the time (past, present or future) and the main verb will reflect whether the action is completed or ongoing (simple or progressive).
Putting it to use:
Now you know how and when we can use the Perfect Tenses and even how to construct them, it’s time to put them to use. As I explained in Part 1, there are many functions of the Perfect Aspect, so that means there are plenty of opportunities to use it. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to always use a Perfect Tense. In Fact, we usually use a Perfect Tense in combination with a non-perfect tense. Typically, we use a Perfect Tense to speak of the action/event we most want to emphasize.
For example, in the Present Perfect example above, I used the Past Simple to say that I was unable to call and the Present Perfect to explain why I can’t call. The most important action/event in the sentence, the one I want to emphasize, is the fact that I lost my phone. It connects the past event (losing my phone) to it’s present consequence (I can’t make any calls).
Still intimidated or confused? Don’t be, practice makes perfect… Perfect Tense!