The present perfect tense puzzles many ESL students. The good news is that the past participle of regular verbs is the same as the simple past. Usually, add an “ed” and you have it. “I’ve walked to school every day this week.” The bad news is that many of the most common verbs in English are irregular. “I’ve spent too much money.”
It’s difficult to know when to use this tense too. Try to remember to use the present perfect in these three instances:
1. When something happened very recently. I’ve lost my keys! Help me find them, please.
2. When something began in the past and is still true. I’ve lived in the U.S. most of my life. (I still live in the U.S.) But remember: If something happened at a particular time in the past and is no longer true, use the simple past. I lived in Japan when I was a child. (I don’t live in Japan now.)
3. When something happened in the past, but the particular time isn’t important. She’s already finished her homework. (Did she finish it last night or last week? It doesn’t matter.) Have you ever been late for work?
Beware! Even with the words “always” and “never,” use the simple past if something happened at a particular time. For example: I never ate cereal for breakfast when I was a child. My grandmother always made pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. (Poor Grandmother is dead now.)
Listen to these irregular past participles. You will hear me use the contractions “I’ve,” “they’ve,” “he’s” and “she’s.” Of course, it is correct to say “he has” instead of “he’s,” but the more contractions you use, the more you will sound like a native speaker. And you must be able to understand contractions when you hear them because we use them so often.
*** A perfect tense is a tense that includes some form of “to have” as a helper verb plus the past participle. The present perfect tense includes the present tense of “to have” as the helper verb. In the present perfect tense, the helper verb is either “have” or “has.” It is never “had.” But remember that “had” can also be used as a past participle. For example: I’ve had a bad cold all winter. In this present perfect sentence, the helper verb is “have” and the past participle is “had.”