English grammar – Present Perfect
The present perfect is used to make a link between the past and the present. It can be used in a few different ways and in some cases is similar to the passé composé in French, but NOT all the time. On the Bright, there are often questions where you have to choose the correct verb tense, so reviewing all the tenses is necessary, and this tense can be particularly confusing.
First, let’s review the structure.
HAVE (or HAS in the 3rd person singular) + PAST PARTICIPLE (that’s either –ed for regular verbs, and column 3 of an irregular verb list).
- I have met with the plant manager many times to discuss productivity issues of the new assembly line.
- She has met with the plant manager many times to discuss productivity issues of the new assembly line.
- I have not spoken with them this week. = I haven’t spoken with them this week.
- She has not spoken with them this week. = She hasn’t spoken with them this week.
- Have you spoken with them this week?
- Yes, I have. / No, I haven’t.
Now, let’s review the main uses for the present perfect:
1) Past actions which have consequences for the present.
- The production manager has met with the director of the plant several times and spoken to him about productivity issues of the new assembly line.
- When did the action take place? Recently, many times.
- What consequence does it have for the present? The production manager has met with the plant director to speak about the productivity issues of the new assembly line: the plant director now knows and can act.
2) Actions which started in the past and are still in progress at the moment we speak.
- The director has worked at this plant for 10 years.
- When did the action begin? 10 years ago.
- Has it finished? No, the director still works at the plant.
Using the Present Perfect versus the Past Simple
For French speakers, there are often difficulties in distinguishing the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.
Look at these two sentences.
- David lived in Hong Kong in 2007. (past simple)
- David has lived in Hong Kong. (present perfect)
In the first sentence, we use the past simple because we mentioned a time in the past. In the second sentence, there is no mention of time. We do not know when David lived in Hong Kong, and we do not know if David still lives in Hong Kong, so we use the present perfect.
David has lived in Hong Kong in 2007. This sentence is wrong. We do not use the present perfect if a specific past time is mentioned.
- David has lived in Hong Kong since 2007. (Both of these sentences would be
- David has lived in Hong Kong for seven years. in the present tense in French.)
We know that David still lives in Hong Kong. Be careful of the use of the words ‘since’ and ‘for’. They are confusing! ‘Since’ is followed by a time in the past (‘2007’, ‘yesterday’, ‘last month’, etc.), and ‘for’ is followed by a duration (‘seven years’, ‘three minutes’, ‘an eternity’).
Mr. Brandon worked on productivity issues at the plant for a year (from 2010 to 2011). Mr. Brandon no longer works on these issues (or perhaps there are no more issues to be dealt with !). We know this because the verb is in the past simple.
Mr. Brandon has worked on productivity issues at the plant for a year. It is likely that Mr. Brandon continues to work on these issues or that these issues still exist. We know this because the verb is in the present perfect. The action is not finished yet.