Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is meant by "present perfect", "past perfect", and "future perfect" verbs? How can I identify them or know which is which?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers 2

Jimi Oke's answer is useful, but incomplete in an important respect.

Perfect tenses indicate completion with continuing relevance (to now for the (present) perfect, but to other reference points for the other tenses).

The simple past indicates that the action is complete and finished with (eg there is no longer any possibility of doing the action).

The (present) perfect indicates that the action is complete, but is somehow still relevant now - in its effects perhaps, or in the possibility of repeating it.

So "I saw him" implies that the possibility of seeing him again has passed - perhaps he has left; whereas "I've seen him" suggests that he is still here.

I believe that this distinction is less clear-cut in US than UK English, though the difference has been decreasing. Thirty years ago it was rare in the UK to use the simple past for very recent events (so "Did you eat it?" would mean this morning, or yesterday, but not just now), but that has been changing.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The perfect tense indicates completion.

  • Past Perfect Tense

    Used to express an action that was completed in the past. It is constructed with the past tense of have (had) and the past participle of the verb. Examples: had done, had seen, had gone, had taken. An example sentence: I was grief-stricken to hear that she had forsaken her one true love.

  • Present Perfect Tense

    Used to express an action completed recently (in the present). It is constructed with the present tense of have (have/has) and the past participle of the verb. Examples: have seen, has eaten, have decided. An example sentence: Have you done it?

  • Future Perfect Tense

    Used to express an action that will be completed (in the future). It is constructed thus: will + have + past participle of the verb. Examples: will have finished, will have learned, will have forsaken. An example sentence: He will have returned before Mary leaves.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.