I’ve a question about the use of present perfect. I know the present perfect can be used when we want to say that something happened but we don’t know or we don’t care when. For example:

  • I’ve made beautiful things
  • I’ve studied English

My question is: can I write

  • I’ve broken my leg

    even if my leg now is fine and I merely want to say that at some time in the past I broke it?

Or do I have to say “I broke my leg”?

  • I'm not sure "don’t know or we don’t care When" is a useful (or accurate) way of thinking about Present Perfect. I might say I have [done something] (specifically with stress on the highlighted auxiliary verb) to emphasize the fact of having done it (often, to refute someone suggesting that I haven't). But generally speaking (and particularly with the contracted version as per your example), Preset Perfect is used to reference a Past action that continues up until the present, and/or is somehow relevant to time of utterance. Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 11:08
  • The default sense of 'I've broken my leg' is that there is a continuing impact, however tenuous. (Was that a pun?) "I've broken my leg so I can't play rugby for several months." "It would be wonderful if you could get up to Ashton to see us this year, Mike – I've broken my leg." "You won't believe this, Connie – I've broken my leg!" (new news, implication of present consequences). But not "2015? It was almost as bad as this year. I've broken my leg." // A possible usage is "Don't think that this is the end of the world. I've broken my leg, and still played top-flight football again." Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


The perfect has four general interpretations (CaGEL p143):

the continuative

She has lived in Berlin ever since she married.

the experiential (or ‘existential’) perfect

My sister has been up Mont Blanc.

the resultative perfect

He has closed the door.

the perfect of recent past

I've discovered how to solve the problem.

The continuative is rather clearly separated, but the other three largely rely on context for the correct interpretation - whether the situation in question is recent or not. All three have current relevance in that they are important now, but for different reasons.

The interpretation you're going for is the experiential perfect, which does not imply that the situation occurred within the recent past. It would be the salient interpretation in contexts like:

I've broken my leg, but never my arm.

In sum, you can use the perfect in this way, just make sure the context is right.


Present perfect is used when you want to say:

  • Something happened in the past but whose effect continues to the present
  • Something happened over an expanse of time
  • Something that happened moments before

Your first statement - 'I've made beautiful things' - falls more naturally into the first category. That means, for example, you made a beautiful flower vase sometime in the past, a vase which you still display in the kitchen. Your second statement - 'I've studied English' - can fall naturally into either category. You may have studied English in the past, a situation which would make you good at English in the current moment, or you may have studied English over a period of time, say from 3rd grade until now. It can be interpreted either way, but the message stays the same. An example in the third category would be 'The clock has just stopped' or 'The train has arrived'

In the context of the above "rules", you can say 'I've broken my leg' only if your leg is still broken, aligning it to the first category, or if you broke your legs moments before you make the statement, aligning it to the third category. It would be strange to imply that you broke your leg over a period of time, so the second category would not be used here.

If on the contrary, you want to imply that you broke your leg in the past, but that the leg is fine now, then you need to use the simple past 'I broke my leg'

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