What are the present perfect and the past perfect?

What are the present perfect and the past perfect?
We use the present perfect and past perfect verb tenses when talking or writing about actions that are completed by the present or by a specific moment in the past or future. In our parents' guide to the perfect verb tenses we explain what children are taught in the primary-school classroom as part of the grammar curriculum.

What are the present perfect and the past perfect?

A verb tense tells us when the action or state described by the verb happened. The three main verb tenses in English are the present, the past, and the future.

The present tense is made up of:

The past tense is made up of:

The 'perfect' tenses (present perfect, past perfect and future perfect) are usually used to talk about actions that are completed by the present or a particular point in the past or future.

To form the perfect tense we use the present / past / future form of the verb to have and the past participle of the main verb (I have walked / I had walked / I would have walked).

The present perfect explained

We use the present perfect tense to talk about our experiences in a way that does not refer to when they happened:

I have never been abroad.

We also use this tense to talk about an action which started in the past and is continuous up until now:

I have been a doctor for ten years.

We also use this tense to talk about something that has happened in the past but has a result in the present:

I have lost my passport.
(The result in the present is that I don't have my passport).

The past perfect explained

The past perfect is used to talk about an event that was completed in the past before something else happened:

I had just finished cooking the meal when my guests arrived.
I didn't want to watch the film, as I had already seen it.

What are children taught about verb tenses at primary school?

In Year 2, children are taught to use the present and past tense consistently in their writing.

In Year 3, they are be expected to use the present perfect form of verbs instead of the simple past (for example: 'He has gone on holiday' rather than 'He went on holiday').

Children in Year 5 and Year 6 will be taught about the present perfect and past perfect tenses, because it is possible a question on them will arise in the Year 6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test. In the KS2 grammar assessment children may come across a question similar to this one:

Answer: has wanted

How do teachers teach children about the present perfect and past perfect?

  • A good way to help children get used to various tenses is to give them various sentences written in the two different tenses and encourage children to sort them into two groups.
  • Children may also be asked to look through their reading books to see if they can find sentences that are written in these tenses.
  • Children may be asked to write their own sentences using both the tenses.