What Is the Perfect Aspect? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Perfect Aspect

The perfect aspect (or complete aspect as it's sometimes called) is the aspect of a verb that expresses a completed action.

In other words, "perfect aspect" is the collective term for all the verbs (in the past tense, present tense, or future tense) in a perfect tense.

The "Perfect (or Complete) Aspect" Verbs

There are 12 tenses in total. The table below shows all four aspects and the three tenses in each aspect. The three "perfect (or completed) aspect" tenses are highlighted in yellow.
The "Simple Aspect" TensesExamples
The simple aspect is used to describe facts and habits.
Simple Present Tense
  • The dog eats bones.
  • Simple Past Tense
  • The dog ate bones.
  • Simple Future Tense
  • The dog will eat bones.
  •   
    The "Progressive (or Continuing) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The progressive aspect expresses ongoing actions.
    Present Progressive Tense
  • The dog is eating bones.
  • Past Progressive Tense
  • The dog was eating bones.
  • Future Progressive Tense
  • The dog will be eating bones.
  •   
    The "Perfect (or Complete) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect aspect expresses completed actions.
    Present Perfect Tense
  • The dog has eaten bones.
  • Past Perfect Tense
  • The dog had eaten bones.
  • Future Perfect Tense
  • The dog will have eaten bones.
  •   
    The "Perfect Progressive Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect progressive aspect expresses the end of an ongoing action.
    Present Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The dog has been eating bones.
  • Past Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The dog had been eating bones.
  • Future Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The dog will have been eating bones.
  • Slider Showing Verbs in the Complete Aspect

    The following slider shows all 12 tenses. Each infographic shows how the tense is formed, the role of the tense, and some examples. The perfect tenses (i.e., those in the perfect aspect) are highlighted with a yellow background.

    Examples of Verbs in the Perfect Aspect

    Here are some examples of verbs in the perfect aspect:

    In the Past Tense
    • We had seen.
    • I had cleaned.
    • She had drunk.
    In the Present Tense
    • I have seen.
    • She has taken.
    • It has found.
    In the Future Tense
    • You will have finished.
    • They will have eaten.
    • She will have swum.

    Forming the Perfect Aspect

    The perfect aspect is formed using a form of the auxiliary verb "have" and the past participle. For example:

    Forming the Past Perfect Tense

    "had"
    +
    [past participle]
    • They had played.
    Forming the Present Perfect Tense

    "has" or "have"
    +
    [past participle]
    • He has played.
    • We have played.
    Forming the Future Perfect Tense

    "will have"
    +
    [past participle]
    • He will have played.

    Verb Tenses Showing the Perfect Aspect

    Here are the 12 tenses again. This time, the tenses are ordered under the headings past tense, present tense, and future tense. As before, the tenses in the perfect (or complete) aspect are shaded in yellow.
    The 4 Past Tenses Example
    simple past tense I went
    past progressive tense I was going
    past perfect tense I had gone
    past perfect progressive tenseI had been going
    The 4 Present Tenses Example
    simple present tense I go
    present progressive tense I am going
    present perfect tense I have gone
    present perfect progressive tense I have been going
    The 4 Future Tenses Example
    simple future tense I will go
    future progressive tense I will be going
    future perfect tense I will have gone
    future perfect progressive tense I will have been going

    Verb Tense Widget

    Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , then you can click it!

    Why Should I Care about the Perfect Aspect?

    Native English speakers can use all twelve tenses without giving the grammar a second thought. However, if you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time learning the tenses because expressing when something occurs is a fundamental communication skill. Remember though that tenses do not just tell us whether something is a past, present, or future action. They also tell us whether the action is habitual, completed, or ongoing (called the aspects).

    The trick to learning tenses is mastering the following:
    • The verb "to be" in all its forms (am, is, are, was, were, will be)
    • The verb "to have" in all its forms (has, have, had, will have)
    • Present participles, i.e., the "ing" form of verbs (e.g., playing, thinking, eating)
    • Past participles (e.g., played, thought, eaten)
    Interactive Exercise
    Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

    See Also

    complete aspect What is aspect? What is the perfect tense? What is the past perfect tense? What is the present complete tense? What is the future present tense? Glossary of grammatical terms