Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Newer Post Older Post Home

Anybody having problems with the Present Perfect?

The present perfect is tricky. What do I mean by ‘tricky’? I mean it is sometimes difficult to understand and, in fact, it is used for a lot of different reasons. Many students learn these reasons but sometimes this means students can answer the question ‘What are the different uses of the present perfect tense?’ but they still can’t actually use the tense comfortably or accurately.

This is because students need to understand 3 things:
  1. Don’t worry, the present perfect tense is not the most common tense in English... but sorry, we still use it a lot! So this is a very important part of communication in English that you... can’t... ignore! 
  2. Making mistakes is good. If you are not sure how to use the present perfect then don’t, don’t, don’t avoid using it! We learn from our mistakes because mistakes = experience. 
  3. If you are not comfortable with the present perfect tense, then you need more experience with it. 
For this last part, I have a short activity for you.

1.  You are going to listen to a poem (in fact, lyrics to a song) that uses the present perfect tense a lot. Listen once and while you are listening make some notes about what verbs you hear. 

2.  Now listen one more time and see if you can add more to your notes. REMEMBER, these are notes... you shouldn’t be writing down every word. 

3.  Now with the help of your notes and this slide show, see if you can rebuild the whole poem – the final slide has the answers.  Each slide is visual help for one line of the poem.

You might know this song. It is by U2 and it’s called “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. If you want a final challenge and a little bit more practice then do the interactive gap fill with a YouTube video of a live performance.

Still Haven’t Found What I’m Look For” at Lyrics Training (remember to select a game mode: beginner, intermediate, advanced or expert)

or, just enjoy the original video below... :-)


  1. Hi Gordon! I always tell my students that I lived in Britain for one and a half years and the Present Perfect is just EVERYWHERE! It was difficult at first because I was, as you say, used to avoiding it, but I finally came to terms with it. Thanks for the song, it's a nice example and an easy way to remember that some contexts simply call for this tense =) Cheers!

  2. Yes, it is surprisingly easy to miss things in a language when we don't understand them. They become like white noise and unless learners focus on these things they will continue to miss them, avoid them and struggle without them.

    The problem with present perfect is trying to find solid rules of use. Perhaps a good idea is for learners to start with a simple rule that is easy to apply to the present perfect - always use this tense with 'since'*? Would that be a good place to start?

    I think starting with this simple rule gives students an opportunity to start using a complicated tense with confidence. When you start to use it you start to notice it more and then you learn more and faster.

    * NOTE TO LEARNERS: You need to be a bit careful. The word 'since' has two meanings - the first meaning is 'from a specific time and forwards from that specific time'. However, 'since' is also a synonym of 'because'. The present perfect rule only applies to the first rule.

    For example:

    I've walked since I was two.
    I've been married since 1992.
    I haven't done any exercise since the marathon.

    BUT for 'because':

    Since I am hungry, I will go and make dinner.
    Since I want a car, I need to save money.


Newer Post Older Post Home