As we’ve already seen, the present perfect is one of the most challenging verb tenses for all English students to learn to use. It’s used in a variety of situations and often with quite different meanings. But with some guidance and regular practice you can easily become confident in using this important tense. Let’s review when we use the present perfect in the active form and then see how we can use it in the passive form.
Using the Present Perfect
The present perfect is a tense that usually describes something about the past that has a connection with the present. It can describe a past experience that has importance to now, or it can refer to an action that began in the past and continues in the present, or it can express a recent action that creates consequences in this moment.
We create the present perfect by using the verb ‘have’ and the past participle of a verb. For example,
“You have finished.”
To make questions we invert ‘have’ and the subject:
“Have you finished?”
And to make negative forms we add ‘not’:
“You haven’t finished.”
The only small variation of this is with the third person singular that requires has instead of have. For example,
She has finished.
With the present perfect we typically use unfinished time expressions like today, this week, this year, in my life. We also often use the adverbs yet, already, just, ever and never in present perfect sentences. And when we talk about unfinished actions or situations we use for and since.
The Main Uses
Let’s look in detail at the three main situations in which we use the Present Perfect and see some examples.
1) Recent actions
We use the present perfect to describe a recent action or ask if something has happened recently. It’s often used with words like just, already, yet, still. For example,
Jack’s asked me to marry him! I’m so happy!
(Finished action in recent past – consequence now.)
Have you finished reading the newspaper yet?
Ann’s just called. She’s missed her bus and will be here late.
2) Life experience
We can also use the present perfect to talk about important things we’ve done. In this case we often use ever and never. For example,
I’ve been to Canada. Have you ever been there?
How many times have you travelled abroad?
He’s won a lot of competitions during his sports career.
3) Unfinished actions
The third use of the present perfect is to describe actions that started in the past but continue now. With this we use for and since. For example,
He’s worked here for 18 years.
We’ve lived in the city center since 2008.
How long have you known Pablo?
Using the Present Perfect in the Passive Form
In the above examples we looked at the present perfect in the active form, meaning that the subject was the person or thing doing the action.
When we use the passive form, we focus attention on what or who receives an action (the object). We use the passive in almost all the tenses in English and create it by using the verb ‘to be’. For example, in the present simple:
ACTIVE: People collect the goods..
PASSIVE: The goods are collected.
In the past simple the sentence becomes,
ACTIVE: People collected the goods yesterday.
PASSIVE: The goods were collected yesterday.
And when necessary we can express the same idea with the present perfect. For example,
ACTIVE: People have collected the goods.
PASSIVE: The goods have been collected.
We use the present perfect in the passive form for all the same reasons we use it in the active form – to talk about recent actions, experiences, and ongoing actions/situations.
In the present perfect form with the passive, we always use ‘has/have been’ + the past participle form. Here are some more examples:
The staff have been trained.
The reports have been written.
Have the candidates been interviewed?
The applications haven’t been checked yet.
Have you been introduced to the new manager?
He’s been taken to see the President.
Sara has been promoted three times in her career.
The waste products have been left here since last February.
Knowing how to use the present perfect in both the active and passive forms will really help you when you work and travel. Practice now with this fun quiz.