Unit 13 - The Present Perfect Tense
Lesson 13.1 - What are the Perfect Tenses?
So, what are the perfect tenses, and why are they called that?

Feel free to skip this lesson if you wish. It explains what the perfect tenses are and how they work in English.

Why are They Called Perfect Tenses?

As I've complained before, the names of tenses make them sound even more complicated than they are.

That is certainly true for the perfect tenses.

What makes them perfect? Are they better than the other tenses?

Perfect Means Completed

The English word perfect is derived from the Latin word perfectus, which means completed or finished.

Other Latin meanings are excellent or lacking in no way, and those are closer to how we normally use the word perfect in English.

But in the names of the perfect tenses, the word conveys the fact that these tenses refer to actions that are completed.

Perhaps a less confusing name for these tenses would have been Present Completed and Past Completed.

So What Specifically is the Present Perfect Tense?

Here is a phrase using the present perfect tense: I have called her.

This is the present perfect because it refers to an action which was completed before the present moment.

Yes, that sounds really picky, and as we look at the other perfect tenses you will see why it is so specific.

To form the present perfect in English, we use the helping verb to have plus the past participle (-ed form) of the verb.

You Use Theses Tenses Automatically

Although they are confusing to explain, you use these tenses all the time in English with never a pause.

Imagine this conversation:

Have you talked to Ann? She was looking for you.

Have talked is in the present perfect tense, because John is asking whether at the present moment Tom has completed the action of talking to Ann.

No, I called her earlier, but she had left the house already. I will find her at school.

Had left is in the past perfect tense, because Tom is noting that Ann had completed the action of leaving at a moment in the past (when he tried to call her).

No, by the time you arrive, she will have finished for the day.

Will have finished is the future perfect tense, talking about an action that will have been completed at a future moment in time.

Easier Done than Said

As you can tell, the conversation is easy to follow, but the grammar is pretty sophisticated.

Remember this as you learn these tenses in Spanish.

During a conversation, you won't be stopping to decide between the present perfect or the past perfect.

Instead, your goal is to have the right form of the helping verb haber on the tip of your tongue without much thought.

Getting there will take some practice, but it is not as hard as it sounds at first.

In the next lesson, we will talk about how to form the present perfect tense.


Report an issue: Report a problem

Additional Study Resources

Explains the perfect verb tenses in the English language.