Purpose: Current significance of past events, confirmation of knowledge or experience
1. Present perfect describes experiences. Even though they happened in the past, they are relevant now.
- Have you ever seen Batman? Yes, I have.
- Have you eaten? No, I haven’t eaten yet.
- Have you been seen by anyone? No, we haven’t been seen by anyone yet.
- Which countries have you visited? I've visited China, Poland, and France.
The present perfect answer indicates that you have experienced being in these countries. Present perfect does not provide any specific information about when those experiences occurred in the past. In this example, the speaker is not indicating when he visited China, Poland, and France; he is not even indicating that he visited those countries in that order.
- Have you heard the news? No, I haven't. What happened?
2. Present perfect describes results of actions that started in the past.
- He still hasn’t recovered from the accident.
- The policy hasn’t resulted in any improvements.
Have you done the homework?
Has the homework been done?
The police have arrested the criminal.
The criminal has been arrested.
The kids have eaten all the cake.
The cake has been eaten.
I have asked him to fix his work.
He has been asked to fix his work.
The staff have asked the customer who is behaving rudely to leave.
The customer who is behaving rudely has been asked to leave.
No one has helped the customer.
The customer hasn’t been helped by anyone.
No one has seen him since the incident.
He hasn’t been seen since the incident.
Pronunciation note: In passive voice, “been” is pronounced “bin.”
Usage note: The verb “have” is not used passively, except in one case.
- Active voice: I’ve always had these migraines.
- Passive voice: These migraines
have always been had by me. Yuk!
In movies, especially older American crime dramas, you’ll hear the expression “We’ve been had!” It means “we’ve been cheated.” This expression is not commonly used today.
Present perfect vs past simple
Present perfect asks about the existence of past experiences:
- Have you ever seen/visited/heard…?
Past simple asks specific questions about events that ended in the past:
- When did you…?
Questions in past simple often follow present perfect questions: present perfect asks whether the experience occurred; past simple asks a follow-up question.
- Have you heard the news? No, I haven't heard anything. What happened?
- Have you ever lived overseas? Yes, I have. Where did you live? I lived in China for a couple years.
Statements using past simple refer to past actions. Statements using present perfect mean that the action happened in the past and its consequences are still true right now:
Present perfect I've lost my wallet = I don't have my wallet; it's still lost.
- If someone says, "I've lost my wallet," you might offer "Can I help you find it?"
Past simple I lost my wallet and then I found it under my car seat.
Common mistake: Using present perfect with a specific past time
Do not use present perfect when mentioning a past time in the same sentence.
have seenthe movie last week.
Because a specific past time is given, you can’t use present perfect. Use past simple:
- I saw the movie last week.