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Present perfect tense vs. past perfect tense

present perfect tense

Mr.Maru: What are you going to do today?

Sparky: Well, I had decided to go to the dog park.

Mr.Maru: You had? Are you going somewhere else?

Sparky: No, I’m still going to the dog park.

Mr.Maru: So, you decided to go to the dog park.

Sparky: Um, exactly. I have been wanting to go to the dog park for awhile.

Mr.Maru: You haven’t stopped talking about it since we saw that poodle there last month.

Sparky: That’s not the main reason I want to go. It’s also good to get some exercise.

Mr.Maru: Right.


A couple of months ago, I talked about simple past vs. present perfect tense, but today we are going to talk about present perfect tense vs. past perfect tense.  How do you use present perfect and past perfect? Do they have different meanings? What is the difference between past perfect and present perfect? Let’s talk about some examples and rules for these often confused grammar points.

present perfect tensePresent Perfect Tense

We can use the present perfect tense to talk about an accomplishment or a completed task. For example,

I’ve finished my exams! (I am done with exams.)
They’ve completed the new mall. (They completely built the mall.)

If you use present perfect tense to talk about a completed action, you must be thinking about the present as well. For example,

O George Washington became the first president.
X George Washington has become the first president.

O Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
X Alexander Graham Bell has invented the telephone.

We can also use the present perfect tense to talk about an action that is continuing until the present time. For example,

I have worked here for 5 years.
He has lived here since he got his new job.

past perfect tensePast Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is used to talk about an earlier past. It is usually used when we talk about two past events. For example,

When I arrived, the party had started. (They party started. Then, I arrived.)
George had wanted to go to the park until it started raining. (He wanted to go to the park. Then, it started raining.)

Be careful! Sometimes the other past event is understood. It might not be clearly stated in the sentence. For example,

A: I had wanted to go to the park (until something happened.)

B: Why aren’t you going?
A: I need to do my homework.


We can also use past perfect tense to talk about something that continued for a period of time in the past. For example,

It had rained for 5 days before our wedding, but it was sunny on our wedding day.
She had worked for ABC Corporation for 50 years when she finally decided to retire.

Do you think you understand? Let’s take a short quiz.


1) My wife _______ dinner before I got home, so I could eat right away.

A) had prepared

B) prepared

C) has prepared


2) Commodore Mathew C. Perry __________ to Japan.

A) had sailed

B) sailed

C) has sailed


3) I ____________ cleaning the bathroom. I’m tired!

A) had finished

B) finished

C) have just finished



1)A) – My wife prepared the supper before I arrived.

2) B) – Commodore Perry sailed to Japan a long time ago, so we must use simple past.

3) B) or C) – B) is more casual, but C) is a little more formal sounding.


Thanks for stopping by, if you have a question about grammar, please email me at englishspark@yahoo.com Thanks for reading!

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