Difference between Present Perfect and Past Perfect in English

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Both present perfect and past perfect talk about something that happened before a point in time (reference point).

In the present perfect, our reference point is the present.

In the past perfect, our reference point is in the past.

Present perfect

  • An action that started in the past and continues to the present.
    I have lived in this city for six months.
  • An action that happened before now (unspecified time)
    I have been to Japan twice.

How to form the present perfect:

HAVE / HAS + past participle

Examples of the present perfect:

  • My mother has just gone to the store.
  • Janet has lived abroad for five years.
  • I haven’t seen the new movie yet.
  • Have you finished your homework?
It’s very common to use the contractions ‘ve and ‘s in the present perfect:
  • I’ve been to Japan three times.
  • My mother’s just gone to the store.
  • Janet’s lived abroad for five years.

Past perfect

  • An action that happened before a time in the past
    When I arrived at the office this morning, I discovered that I had left my computer on the night before.

How to form the past perfect:

HAD + past participle

Situations where you would use the past perfect:


  1. I went to Japan in 1988 and 1991.
  2. I turned 10 years old in 1994.

Past perfect sentence:

I had been to Japan twice by the time I was 10 years old.


  1. My husband ate breakfast at 6:00 AM
  2. I woke up at 7:00 AM

Past perfect sentence:

When I woke up this morning, my husband had already eaten breakfast.

It’s common to use the contraction ‘d in the past perfect:

  • I’d traveled to five different countries by the time I was 20 years old.

Present Perfect vs. Past Perfect Quiz

Choose the present perfect or the past perfect to complete each sentence. Good luck!
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