Present Perfect, Past Perfect, and Future Perfect Verb Tenses

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 end in -ed.

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

Present 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.

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense expresses an action that began in the past and was completed in the past before something else occurred. 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. The sentence is describing something that began in the past and was completed before something else occurred. 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.

Future Perfect

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.

In two years, I will have saved $2,000.

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.

I hope this overview was helpful!

See you next time!

Practice Questions

Question #1:

 
Which verb tense is being used in the following sentence?

My sister has read that book at least 20 times.

Past perfect

Present perfect

Future perfect

Answer:

The present perfect tense is formed by combining the word have/has with the past participle in order to express an action that began in the past and is now completed in the present. In this case, the word has is paired with the past participle read, creating a sentence that uses the present perfect tense.

Question #2:

 
Which verb tense is being used in the following sentence?

Caleb will have finished all of his chores before dinner.

Past perfect

Present perfect

Future perfect

Answer:

The future perfect tense is formed by combining the word will, the word have, and the past participle in order to express an action that began in the past and will be completed before some point in the future. In this case, the words will and have are combined with the past participle finished, creating a sentence that uses the future perfect tense.

Question #3:

 
Which verb tense is being used in the following sentence?

Because of the cold temperatures, she had decided to stay indoors.

Past perfect

Present perfect

Future perfect

Answer:

The past perfect tense is formed by combining the word had and the past participle in order to express an action that began in the past and was completed in the past before something else occurred. In this case, the word had is combined with the past participle decided, creating a sentence that uses the past perfect tense.

Question #4:

 
Which of the following sentences is written in the present perfect tense?

I will have finished all of my homework by then.

I had finished all of my homework by then.

I have finished all of my homework.

Answer:

In this case, the words have and finished are the clues that tell you this sentence is written in the present perfect tense. The homework is something that was started in the past, but is completed now.

Question #5:

 
How would you change the following sentence so that it is written in the past perfect tense:

Jim will have taught school for 15 years by then.

Change will have taught to did teach

Change will have taught to had taught

Change will have taught to will teach

Answer:

Changing will have taught to had taught will change the sentence to be written in the past perfect tense: Jim had taught school for 15 years by then. This is saying that Jim taught school for 15 years in the past, which happened before something else.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: June 24, 2021