Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect Verb Tenses

The present perfect verb tense refers to something that was just completed in the recent past. For example, “I have just finished writing my essay.” Present perfect can also be used to describe something that happened in the past but is still occurring. For example, “Daniel has worked for Exxon for the past 12 years.” Past perfect refers to how two things that have already happened relate. For example, “Before he went home from work, Eric stopped by the store.” Future perfect tense refers to something that will be completed before a future time. For example, “I will write my essay before next Friday.”

Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect Verb Tenses

Today we’re going to be talking about the difference between present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect verb tenses.

Remember that verbs are words that describe an action, occurrence, or state of being. The tense of a verb refers to the time of the action or state of being. The perfect form is the verb tense used to talk about a completed action or condition and always uses a form of “have” or “had,” plus the past participle.

Participles are words made out of verbs but used as adjectives. In English, participles are also sometimes used to form compound words like “is going.” A past participle, in the context we’re using it today, is the second part of a compound verb that’s used to form perfect and passive tenses. Past participles usually ends in an -ed.

Verbs can appear in any one of three perfect tenses: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.

Let’s start by talking about present perfect verbs. The present perfect tense expresses an action that began in the past and is now completed in the present. Take a look at this equation:

Present tense of “have” + past participle = present perfect tense

We can put those elements into practice in the following sentence.

I have finished my homework already.

We know this sentence is written in the perfect tense for two reasons. First, we see that it is talking about a completed action: “I have finished my homework.” There’s our -ed past participle, and it’s telling us that the job is completed. The second hint we have that it’s the perfect tense is the word “have.” Remember, the perfect form is a verb tense that uses a form of “have” or “had” plus a past participle.

In this sentence, “have finished” tells us that the finishing action began in the past but is now completed in the present. We can see that the sentence used “have” instead of “had,” so we know it’s present perfect tense, not past perfect.

The past perfect tense expresses an action that began in the past and was completed in the past before something else occured. The past perfect equation looks like this:

Past tense of “had” + past participle = past perfect tense

Here’s a sentence with past perfect tense.

Paul tried to hide the vase because he had broken it.

Right away, our eyes should be drawn to the past perfect phrase “had broken.” There’s our past tense “had” and our past participle. (You may notice that “broken” is not an -ed verb, but it’s still a past participle, it just conjugates differently than the -ed verbs we’ve looked at so far. This also happens with words like “ate” and “shaken.”) This sentence is describing something that began in the past and was completed before something else occured. Paul broke the vase. The action is complete, therefore the tense is perfect, and it happened in the past, therefore the word “had” appears in our equation.

The future perfect tense expresses an action that will be completed by some specified point in the future. This equation is a little more exciting.

“Will” or “shall”+ have + past participle = future perfect tense

Here’s a sentence with future perfect tense.

Do you think the lunchroom will have cooked enough rice?

First, we notice the two elements we’ve learned to expect from the perfect tense: a version of “have or had,” and a past participle, in this case the -ed verb “cooked.” You might be tempted to think this was present perfect tense based on our earlier equation, but be careful to look first in front of the word “have” to make sure it’s not future perfect. Sure enough, the entirety of the phrase reads “will have cooked.”

This tells us that we’re talking about an action that’s not done yet, but will be done in the future at a specific time. Take, for example, the following phrases:

By the end of the night, Mary will have danced for three hours.

And,

In two years, I will have saved $2000.

In both these examples, the reader is standing in the present without evidence of a completed action, but we can be sure that both of those things will be done in the future, thus the past participles “danced” and “saved.”

It may sound complicated, but if you remember these three grammar equations and acquaint yourself with common past participles, you’ll have a solid understanding of present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect tenses.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: August 14, 2019