Teaching the Present Perfect

The present perfect is a very common verb tense in English, but it can be confusing for students to learn because it has two main uses that are quite different from one another. Adding to the challenge is the present perfect’s similarity to the simple past and the present perfect progressive. In my experience, most textbooks teach the two main uses separately, and some students never realize that this verb tense can do two different things.

Also, most textbooks don’t include an exercise that combines the present perfect and the simple past. It’s easy enough to produce have + past participle over and over in a written or spoken exercise—the real challenge lies in recognizing the difference between the present perfect and the simple past and being able to produce the correct tense.

Below is a grammar explanation that highlights the two main uses of the present perfect. The simple past and present perfect progressive are also discussed, and a worksheet comparing the present perfect and simple past is available on page 3 of the handout. We hope this handout helps your students understand and use this common tense!

Grammar Explanation:



1. went   2. has been   3. Have, watched   4. have lived   5. visited   6. have not gone / haven’t gone
7. Did, call   8. has been   9. did not see / didn’t see   10. has not read / hasn’t read
11. have worked   12. has, finished


For more advanced students, you may want to mention some of the other uses of the present perfect, such as the recent past (I have just been to the bank) and a repeated past action with no specific time reference (I have read that book many times).


For basic practice with the present perfect, try our Have You Ever lesson in our Grammar School section. This lesson includes past participle practice, writing and speaking exercises, and a group activity.


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Tanya Trusler

Tanya is a freelance editor and writer with an extensive background as an ESL teacher. She edits lesson plans, creates new materials, and writes weekly blog posts for ESL-Library and Sprout English. Her company is Editing to a T. Follow her on Twitter (@tanyatrusler) and Google Plus.

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