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perfect (adjective)

verb tense

(to) confuse (someone)

(to be) confused (adj.)

(the) past

(the) present

leading up to now

structurally (adverb)

(to be) similar

(the) main verb

(a) helping verb

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How Have You Been?

The Present Perfect Tense

Welcome to today's ESL Help Desk podcast!  Since our last podcast, we've been busy filling the shelves of our Library with audio stories and grammar lessons for learners of English and speakers of English who want to have a little bit of fun with the English language.  We recently received a request to discuss the present perfect tense, so today we are going to present the first in a perfect mini-series.


First, I'd like to ask a question. What's so perfect about the present perfect tense?

Secondly, the name present perfect really confuses me.  I think that with the name present perfect, the action should all refer to the present.  However, I have noticed that many times we use this tense when we are referring to events that occurred in the past. 

You notice correctly.  For example, perhaps the last time I saw you was six months ago, and today I meet you on the street and I would like to ask you about all the time since then.  I want to know not only about how you are now, but also all of the time leading up to now, from the last time I saw you up to and including now.  I ask you, "How've you been?"

So I am confused because we call this the present perfect tense, but we use it when referring to the past, also.


Let's begin by discussing the structure and verb form of the present perfect verb tense.  Let's use the verb be as our main verb.

Notice that the verb form have been, which represents the present perfect tense, and the verb form had been, which represents the past perfect verb tense, are structurally similar. 

Each one consists of two parts: 

1) Each uses a form of the verb have as the helping verb, and
2) each uses the past participle of the main verb be, been.  

The only difference between the two is that the helping verb for present perfect is in the present tense, as in have been and has been, and the helping verb for past perfect is in the simple past tense, as in had been.

Thus, when the helping verb is in the present tense, as in have been or has been, we have formed the present perfect tense.

When the helping verb is in the simple past tense, as in had been, we have formed the past perfect tense.

Try this with any main verb and the results will be the same.

to talk:   (present perfect) have/has talked     (past perfect) had talked          
to write: (present perfect) have/has written   (past perfect) had written
to go:     (present perfect) have/has gone        (past perfect) had gone
to walk:  (present perfect) have/has walked    (past perfect) had walked
to have:  (present perfect) have/has had          (past perfect) had had

Notice that the present (has or have) part of the name present perfect refers ONLY to the structure of the verb form: The helping verb (has or have) is in the simple present tense.

Similarly, the past (had) part of the name of past perfect refers ONLY to the structure of the verb form: The helping verb had is in the simple past tense.


The present perfect tense consists of two parts.  To form it, use -

1.      … the proper form of the verb have, and

2.     … the past participle (also known as the 3rd part) of the main


  • Over the years, I have learned that love remains only if the husband and wife help and understand each other.

  • Since my father decided to move to America, he has changed and my parents' lives have gone in different directions.


Complete this chart below, focusing only on correct verb forms. Remember to change the verb form to account for subject/verb agreement.  The main verbs below are all irregular verbs. Use your dictionary if necessary to obtain the proper past participle form of the main verb.

 main verb   I He They



Check your answers in our next episode, when we discuss the uses of the present perfect verb tense.

So from the ESL Help Desk, thanks for listening to us this week, and remember to send us your questions about English grammar via our blog.

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