Grammar: Present Perfect vs. Past Simple (Review & Exercises)

English Level: Intermediate

Language Focus: A review of the Past Simple, the Present Perfect (Simple), and the Present Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

Worksheet Downloadpresent-perfect-past-simple-worksheet.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)

Jump to: Present Simple (below), Present Progressive, Exercises


Verb Tense Review: The Past Simple

We use the past simple verb tense to talk about events that happened at a specific time in the past. Usually, in these sentences, there is a word like ‘yesterday’ or ‘last year’ which shows the action happened at a time in the past that is finished.

A timeline for the past simple verb tense.

Past Simple Keywords: yesterday, last week, last month, last year, in 1994

  • I washed my clothes yesterday. (yesterday is finished)
  • I met her in 2009. (2009 is finished)
  • I woke up at 7 a.m. this morning. (this morning is finished)

This actions happened in the past, they are finished, and there is no connection with now.


Verb Tense Review: The Present Perfect

Subject + [ Auxiliary verb ‘have’ ] + [ Verb in Past Participle ]

  • I have met her.
  • She has visited Seoul.
  • John have exercised twice this week.

Present Perfect Keywords: today, this week, this month, this year, in my life, recently, lately, since, ever, never, yet, still, so far

With the present perfect, we cannot use a specific time in the past such as ‘yesterday’ or ‘in 2008.’ We use the present perfect when we talk about 1) actions that happened at an unspecified time in the past, 2) actions in a period that has not finished yet, and 3) actions that began in the past and continue to the present.

Let’s review each case.

1) Using Present Perfect with An Unspecified Time in the Past – Talking about Experience

  • I have seen the movie Titanic.
  • She hasn’t met him.

These two sentences don’t say anything about time. They don’t have words like ‘yesterday’ or ‘in 2008’. When we speak like this, we are talking about the experience we have had in life. These sentences are the same as saying:

  • I have seen the movie Titanic in my life. (I have this experience)
  • She hasn’t met him in her life. (She doesn’t have this experience.)

We’re talking about your life. Is your life finished? No, you are still alive. Your life is a period that has not finished yet. This is usually how we use the present perfect (see the next case).

2) Using Present Perfect with a Period That Has Not Finished Yet

A timeline for the present perfect simple verb tense

  • I have paid my rent this month. (this month = a period that is not finished yet)
  • I have gone to the doctor twice this year. (this year = unfinished)
  • I have been to Japan twice in my life. (your life = unfinished)
  • I have flown in an airplane.*

*Again, in the last example, we use the present perfect because there is no mention of time. We are talking our life experience. And because your life is not finished yet, we use the present perfect. We cannot use the present perfect for dead people. For example, ‘Michael Jackson has sang in many concerts‘. We cannot say ‘has sang’ because the period in which he sang (his career, his life) is finished. There is no connection with the present, so we use the Past Simple.

 

3) Using Present Perfect Progressive for Actions that Continue from the Past until Now

A timeline for the Present Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

Subject + [ Auxiliary verb ‘Have’ ] + [ been ] [ Verb in ~ing form (Present Participle)]

This is similar to the rule above.

  • She has been working here since 2010.
  • We have been waiting for 30 minutes.

In these examples, it’s the action that is unfinished. You began working, or waiting, in the past, and you are still doing it now. There is a clear connection with the present. We want to focus on the fact that the action is still happening (now), we use the progressive tense — in this case, it is the present perfect Progressive.

Note: With the verbs live, work, teach, and study, there is no difference in whether you use the present perfect Simple or present perfect Progressive. For example, “I have lived here for two years.” is the same as “I have been living here for two years.

There is one more situation in which we often use the present perfect.

4) Present Perfect for Actions in the Very Recent Past

  • I’ve just had breakfast, so I’m not hungry.
  • Jane has lost her job, so she’s sad.

We could use either the present perfect or the past simple (Jane lost her job) for these sentences. True, both actions have finished, but because they have happened very recently, there is still some connection with the present.

Prepositions with the Present Perfect: Since & For

We use since with the Present Perfect to indicate when an action (that continues to the present) began.

  • I’ve been studying English since 2004. (I am still studying it)
  • She has been married since she was 20 years old.  (She is still married)
  • People have been fighting in wars since the beginning of time. (They are still fighting)

Again, these actions continued in the past until now. (Note: We use from for actions that started in the past and have finished, for example: I lived in that house from 2002 to 2004.)

We use for to show the amount of time that has passed since an action began.

  • I have been studying English for 12 years.
  • She has been married for 8 years.
  • People have been fighting in wars for thousands of years.

Practice: Exercises for Contrasting the Past Simple and Present Perfect

Remember to look for the keywords, e.g. yesterday. These will help you decide if there is a connection with the present or not.

  1. Alan (graduate) from university last month.
  2. There (be) a large earthquake in Japan in 1995.
  3. I like to exercise, but I (not/exercise) yet this week.
  4. My brother (never/go) to university.
  5. John and Lisa (be) married since 2010.
  6. Recently, it  (not/be) very hot.
  7. My brother (not/be) to the dentist for a long time.
  8. My wife and I (be) married for 1 year. So far we (not/have) any big problems.
  9. I started writing my essay two hours ago, and I still (not/finish) yet.

 

 

  1. A: Where’s John? — B: I don’t know. I (not/seen) him today.
  2. A: (you/ever/be) to Hawaii? — B: Yes. Twice.
  3. A: When (you/get) your dog? — B: Last summer.
  4. A: How long (you/study) English? — B: Five years.
  5. A: Do you know anyone who (be) to Thailand? — B: Yes, my sister.
  6. A: (you/see) my keys today? — B: Yes. I (see) them this morning on the kitchen table.
  7. A: Would you like half my sandwich? — B: I (just/eat) lunch, so I’m not hungry. Thanks for asking though.

 

Exercises for For and Since (and From)

  • Peter lived in Japan  2001 until 2005. Now, he lives in Chicago. He has been living in Chicago  he left Japan. He works as a chef at a nice French restaurant. He has been working there  almost two years.
  • Laura is an excellent golfer. She has been playing golf  she was 8 years old. Now, she’s a professional. She has also been coaching  several years. She started coaching me last year.  then, I have become a much better player.

 

Exercises: Present Perfect Simple or Present Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

Hint: Do not use the progressive tenses for state verbs.

  1. My sister (watch) TV for four hours. She should take a break.
  2. I’m hungry. I (not/have) anything to eat yet today.
  3. It (rain) since noon. I wish it would stop.
  4. A: When is the bus coming? — B: I don’t know. I hope it comes soon. I (wait) for half an hour.
  5. George is my best friend. I (know) him since I was five years old.
  6. The Johnsons are trying to find a house to buy. They (look) for four months. They (not/find) anything yet.
  7. The weather (be) so nice recently. I love summer.
  8. You (do) these exercises for several minutes. (you/make) any mistakes?

 

Insert the Correct Verb: Present Perfect Simple, Present Perfect Progressive, or Past Simple

  • A: Hi John. I (not/see) you in a long time! How (you/be) lately?
  • B: Great! It’s nice to see you. How are you?
  • A: I’m doing great too. Hey, Sarah (tell) me that you have a new job.
  • B: Yes, at Campbell’s Auto Insurance. I’m doing accounting, of course. I (only/be) there for a month but it seems pretty good. And what’s new with you?
  • A: Well, I (move) into a new apartment last month with Jacob.
  • B: Jacob?
    A: My boyfriend. You (not/met) him. We (be) together for half a year now.
  • B: Good for you. And what does Jacob do?
  • A: He’s an accountant too. Actually, he’s searching for a job now. He (look) for a few months now, but he (not/find) anything good yet.
  • B: I know how he feels. I (have) about five interviews at different companies before I (find) my job. I’m sure he’ll find something.
  • A: I hope so. Okay, I’ve got to get going. It was nice talking to you, John. Have a nice day.

 


I hope you’ve found these practice exercises useful. I could write a lot more about the present perfect, but these are the main ideas. If you have a question, leave a comment below.

– Matthew Barton  / Creator of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)

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