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Do NOT make this mistake with the Present Perfect!

Present perfect mistake

Do NOT make this mistake with the Present Perfect!

Are you, by any chance, making this mistake with the Present Perfect? 

  • We have been to Dubai on Tuesday = X. 
  • Have you emailed me last week?  = X.
  • She has talked to me just once at last year’s conference = X. 

If you are, then you are using the Present Perfect incorrectly!

Let’s solve that now, because the Present Perfect is one of the most common verbal forms in English, and it’s absolutely necessary that you start using the Present Perfect in the correct way.

Don’t worry, this will only take less than five minutes. 

First up, how do we make the Present Perfect?

Well, we use the present forms of the main auxiliary verb “to have” (have or has) + past participle (the past form). 

  • Have/has + past participle. 

So, why were these previous phrases, which all make use of the Present Perfect, incorrect? And what is the main mistake they all have in common which a lot of English learners make when using the Present Perfect?

Let’s look even closer!

  • We have been to Dubai on Tuesday = X. 
  • Have you emailed me last week?  = X.
  • She has talked to me just once in last year’s conference = X. 

As you can see, all these phrases are using time expressions (On Tuesday, last week and in last year’s conference). 

It’s super duper important to remember that we use the Present Perfect to talk about actions that started in the past and whose nature still continues until the present moment of speaking.

So, if you use a time expression such as “on Tuesday” or “last week”, this will immediately render the phrase incorrect (if you use the present perfect). This is because these time expressions signify that the event began and finished at that point in time, which is not the reason why we use the Present Perfect. 

Therefore, when you use a time expression such as “on Tuesday”, what you are doing is you’re making the action specific to that time (the action began and finished). So, in these cases, where you have specific actions which began and then finished: you should not use the Present Perfect, but instead use another verbal form such as the past simple. 

In a nutshell, we use Present Perfect for non-specific actions or actions which still continue until the moment of speaking 

Therefore, if we put the previous phrases which are incorrect when used in the Present Perfect into the Past Simple, then they will be correct. For instance, 

  • We went to Dubai on Tuesday = correct. 
  • Did you email me last week?  = correct. 
  • She talked to me just once at last year’s conference = correct. 

Here, we are using the Past Simple (went, did you email and talked) instead of the Present Perfect because these phrases have time expressions (On Tuesday, last week and in last year’s conference) which make these actions specific to one point in time.  

Therefore, when you use the Present Perfect, try not to use time expressions that signify that the action began and finished, because in those cases, you would need to use the Past Simple. 

For example, if you want to express that you have visited the country of Canada, or express that you have the experience of “visiting Canada”, you would say: 

  • I have visited Canada. 

But don’t use a time expression here because that would be incorrect: 

  • I have visited Canada in February, 2016 = X. 

See what we mean?

Here, we cannot use the time expression “in February, 2016” because that would render the Present Perfect incorrect in this phrase. 

Furthermore, you can also use the Past Simple without using a time expression, for example,

  • I went to Canada. 

Importantly, it’s not obligatory to use a time expression with the Past Simple, however, that does not change the nature of the past simple, that is, we use the past simple to express an action which began and then finished. 

In summary, in the Past simple

  • I visited Canada = the action began and then finished at a specific point (for example, on Tuesday, last week, in 2019 etc). However, it’s not obligatory to use a time expression with the Past simple. 

Whereas, in the Present Perfect

  • I have visited Canada = the action is still true today. Maybe you would like to express that you “have the experience of going to Canada”, hence here we’re making use of the Present Perfect. 

Lesson summary

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