Did you know that the present perfect tense is a bridge between the present and the past, allowing us to understand how the past has shaped the present? It is a tool that helps us see the connections between different moments in time. News to you? No worries because this guide is here to help you understand and confidently teach this verb tense to your adult ESL students.
The present perfect verb tense captures recent actions or ongoing states, a crucial linguistic tool to master for students. It’s ubiquitous in both written and spoken English and a key to fluent communication.
In this guide, you’ll read a thorough explanation of the present perfect tense and its uses, as well as get some humorous examples you can use to engage your students. You’ll also get tips and strategies for effectively teaching the present perfect and discover where you can find some present perfect material to use in class.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have the knowledge and resources you need to teach the present perfect to your adult ESL learners with confidence. Let’s get started!
What is the present perfect tense?
The present perfect tense is formed by using the auxiliary verb have or has followed by the past participle of the main verb. The past participle of a verb is typically formed by adding -ed to regular verbs (walk becomes walked) and by using a different form for irregular verbs (eat becomes eaten). You (and your students) may have heard the past participle called verb three.
Here are a few examples of the present perfect tense in action:
- I have eaten lunch. (I recently finished eating lunch.)
- I have eaten so much pizza that I’m pretty sure I’m part pizza now. (The present perfect tense makes pizza-eating a lifelong indulgence. If the simple past had been used, it would have referred to a single past instance of eating pizza.)
- She has won that game many times. (The present perfect is used for repeated actions that happened in the past. Use the simple past for a single action that began and ended in the past.)
- She has procrastinated for so long that she’s starting to become one with her couch. (With the present perfect tense, we can imply that the action has not been completed or that it is a recurrent action. The simple past would have regulated it to a single completed action in the past.)
- We have lived in this house for ten years. (We started living in this house ten years ago and still live here now. Using the simple past would mean we no longer lived in that house.)
How is the present perfect tense used?
The present perfect tense is often used to describe actions that started in the past and continue up to the present. It is also used to describe actions that have recently been completed, even if the exact time they were completed is not specified.
Here are a few more examples of the present perfect tense in use:
- I have visited Paris twice. (I visited Paris in the past, and I have revisited it at some point recently.)
- He has finished his homework. (He completed his homework at some point recently, but we don’t know exactly when.)
- She has worked at the same company for five years. (She started working at the company five years ago and still works there now.)
In addition to describing actions, the present perfect tense can also be used to describe states or conditions that started in the past and continue up to the present. This is especially useful for stative verbs as they cannot be used to express actions in progress. The present perfect gives us the perfect loophole to describe ongoing action.
- I have known them for years. (I first met them in the past, and I still know them now.)
- She has been sick for a week. (She started feeling sick a week ago and is still sick now.)
- We have hated broccoli since we were children. (We spat out our pureed broccoli as young children, and we still hate it now.)
- She has believed in ghosts her whole life. (She started believing in ghosts in the past and still believes in them now.)
Using Time Expressions with the Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect tense is often used with time expressions to provide more context and specificity to the action being described. Here are some common time expressions that are used with the present perfect, along with explanations and examples of their use:
Already is used to indicate that something has happened sooner than expected or previously agreed upon. For example:
- I have already eaten lunch, so I’m not hungry anymore. (I ate lunch sooner than expected or previously agreed upon.)
- She has already finished her homework, so she can watch TV now. (She finished her homework sooner than expected or previously agreed upon.)
- I have already binged the entire season of my favorite show, so I think I need a break from the screen. (I finished that season faster than I expected to, probably due to the binging.)
Yet indicates that something has not happened as of a certain point in time. For example:
- I have not finished my homework yet. (I started it, but it isn’t finished.)
- They have not arrived yet. (They have not arrived as of now.)
- He has not finished his mountain of laundry yet. (He started the laundry, but there is still more to do.)
Just is used to indicate that something has happened very recently. For example:
- I have just finished my homework. (I finished my homework very recently.)
- The mail carrier has just delivered the package. Go get it before the porch pirates do. (The mail carrier delivered the package so recently that she is probably still within sight.)
- He has just finished his marathon video game session. (While we might not know just when he started playing video games, we know that he stopped playing very recently.)
For is used to indicate a duration of time. For example:
- I have lived in New York for five years. (I started living in New York five years ago and still live there now.)
- She has been married for two decades. (She got married about twenty years ago and is still married.)
- He has tried to grow a beard for five years, but he’s still baby-smooth. (He started trying to grow a beard five years ago, and he is still trying now.)
Since is used to indicate a specific point in time. For example:
- I have lived in New York since 2015. (I started living in New York in 2015 and still live there now.)
- She has finished her exams. (She finished her exams at some point in the past, but it is not specified when.)
- He has tried to grow a beard many times since high school, and I think he looks like a baby goat now. (From the time he was in high school, he tried and failed many times to grow a beard. The present perfect shows that he still wants a beard and continues to try.)
Explain to your students that using time expressions like these with the present perfect tense can provide more context and specificity to our actions and experiences.
Tips and strategies for teaching the present perfect
- Start by explaining the basic structure and formation of the present perfect tense. Use clear and simple examples to illustrate the difference between the present perfect and other verb tenses.
- Practice is key when it comes to learning any verb tense. Use grammar guides, worksheets, activities, and interactive games to give your students plenty of opportunities to use the present perfect.
- Encourage students to pay attention to context clues, such as time expressions (for a week, since last year, etc.), which can help them determine which verb tense is appropriate.
- Use real-life examples and scenarios to make the present perfect more relatable and meaningful for your students. For instance, you could ask your students to describe things they have done over the past week or month or to describe their current living situation. (I have lived in my apartment for two years.)
- Emphasize that the present perfect tense allows us to express ongoing actions and states in a way that the simple past tense cannot. We can use the present perfect to give our listeners or readers a more complete and nuanced understanding of our actions and experiences. Challenge them to consider using the present perfect tense to add more context and specificity to something that started in the past and continues up to the present the next time they’re describing something that happened in the past.
Try some creative ideas for teaching the present perfect tense!
Conquer the present perfect with regular and irregular verbs: Have the students pair up and create a list of regular and irregular verbs. Then have them exchange that list with another pair of students and challenge them to write present perfect sentences using each verb. Have them create sentences based on a common theme to make it challenging.
Time to shine with the present perfect: Create a list of time expressions (since Monday, for two hours, already, just, etc.) and have students put their skills to the test by creating present perfect sentences using each time expression. Divide the class into teams and have each team send someone to the board to write a present perfect sentence using one of the time expressions. Ramp up the competition by only allowing main verbs to be used once. As one student finishes, another from the same team goes to the board to write another sentence. The winner is the first team to complete a sentence for each given time expression.
Present Perfectly Matching Game: Write a list of present perfect sentences with the beginning on one card and the ending on another card. Have students race against the clock to match the beginnings to the endings to create logical present perfect sentences. Use negative sentences as well as questions to make it more challenging.
The present perfect story challenge: Work in groups to create a short story using as many present perfect sentences as possible. Encourage students to use various time expressions and regular and irregular verbs. The winning group is the one who used the most present perfect sentences in a logical story format. Stop counting when a story goes off the rails.
Role play to perfect the present perfect: Practice using the present perfect in conversation by role-playing common scenarios. Here are some example role-play scenarios that would require the use of the present perfect:
- Planning a trip: One student plays the role of a travel agent, and the other student plays the role of a customer who is planning a trip. The customer can ask questions about past trips the travel agent has planned, and the travel agent can provide information using the present perfect. (I have planned many trips to Europe, I have arranged flights and accommodations for clients, etc.)
- Interviewing for jobs and careers: One student plays the role of an employer, and the other student plays the role of a job candidate. The employer can ask about the candidate’s past work experience, and the candidate can respond using the present perfect tense. (I have worked at several restaurants, I have gained experience in customer service, etc.)
- Making dinner plans: One student plays the role of a host, and the other student plays the role of a guest. The host can ask the guest about their dietary restrictions and preferences, and the guest can respond using the present perfect. (I have been vegetarian for five years, I have never tried Indian food, etc.)
- Discussing past experiences: One student plays the role of a journalist, and the other student plays the role of a celebrity. The journalist can ask the celebrity about their past experiences in the industry, and the celebrity can respond using the present perfect tense. (I have starred in several films, I have worked with many talented directors, etc.)
- Making plans for the weekend: Two students play the role of friends. The first friend can ask about the second friend’s plans for the weekend. The second friend can respond using the present perfect tense. (I have already made plans to go hiking on Saturday, I have never been to that museum before, so I’m looking forward to checking it out, etc.)
Real-world practice with the present perfect: Incorporate authentic materials (news articles, podcasts, etc.) into your lessons and have students identify and discuss the present perfect verbs and time expressions used.
A present perfect quiz game showdown: Create a quiz game using present perfect questions and answers. Students can work in teams to see who can answer the most questions correctly and be crowned the present perfect champions.
The present perfect survey: Have students create and conduct a survey to gather information about people’s past experiences using the present perfect tense. (Have you ever traveled abroad? How many languages have you learned? etc.).
Exercises to perfect the present perfect: Use exercises and worksheets to give students extra practice with the present perfect tense. You can create your own or get some of the many that I have already created.
Mastering the present perfect tense empowers students to express themselves with clarity and confidence, using a powerful tool that captures ongoing actions and recent accomplishments. Creative and interactive resources can make learning engaging, unlocking the potential of students to connect more meaningfully with others. With the present perfect, anything is possible, and the world is ready to listen.