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Teaching the Present Perfect Tense

  • Teaching the Present Perfect Tense

The following blog post was written by Julie Clements, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement (CEIIA). This blog post is part of our Conference Reflection blog series. The blog series is an opportunity for CEIIA faculty to share a key finding or teaching technique learned at a conference.  

One of the most practical sessions I attended at ATESL 2016 focused on teaching the present perfect tense. Leila Ranta and Tabitha Gilman had a fresh approach to thinking about this tense and how to teach it.

To begin with, we can think about present perfect as having a single meaning or multiple meanings.

The single meaning simply implies current relevance.

Have              +         past participle

(tense)                      (aspect)

Perspective               past action that is relevant to the present

Or we can think about present perfect as having the following multiple meanings.
  • Continuative: She has lived here for 60 years. I have lived here since 1987.
  • Experiential: He has climbed Nepal. I have eaten frog’s legs.
  • Resultative: I have eaten the plums. I have painted a picture.

Resultative is the most commonly used meaning. In these situations a change of state has occurred making a past event relevant to the present. If we again consider the plums in the above example, I ate the plums. The result being that you don’t get to have any plums.

Looking for some good examples of present perfect?
  • Compare biographies to obituaries.
  • Use cartoons as a visual way to connect form and meaning.
  • Analyze movie clips, for example the "I Have Made Fire" scene in the movie Castaway or the World Wildlife Fund commercial "The World Has Changed".
In practicing this tense, consider controlled to less controlled practice.

As an example, we might scaffold in the following way.  

  1. Fill in the blank
  2. Find Someone Who  
  3. Listening for Meaning
Finally, open ended practice is beneficial through activities such as role plays.

Mock job interviews and doctor appointments work well to practice the present perfect tense. In these scenarios, participants use present perfect to give either their work history or medical history.

Remember, present perfect always needs to be contextualized. The choice between present perfect and simple past is the speaker’s. The choice to use present perfect emphasizes relevance to the present. Finally and importantly, before teaching present perfect ensure students are consistently and accurately using the simple past.

Happy grammar teaching!



Thanks Julie! Excellent explanation, examples, and ideas.

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Julie Clements

You are very welcome. Glad it was helpful!


Thanks for sharing Julie - what a clear and concise explanation!

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Julie Clements

My pleasure, Jenn.