What Are the Perfect Tenses? (with Examples)

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The Perfect Tenses

Perfect tense is a category of verb tense used to describe completed actions. It covers the past perfect tense, the present perfect tense, and the future perfect tense. It is sometimes called the complete tense.

Examples of Verbs in a Perfect Tense

Here are some examples of verbs in a perfect tense:

The Past Perfect Tense
  • I had gone.
  • He had seen.
The Present Perfect Tense
  • I have gone.
  • He has seen.
The Future Perfect Tense
  • I will have gone.
  • He will have seen.

Slider Showing Verbs in the Perfect Tenses

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.

Forming the Perfect Tenses

The perfect tenses are formed using a form of the auxiliary verb "to have" and the past participle. For example:

Forming the Past Perfect Tense

"had"
+
[past participle]
  • He had spoken.


Forming the Present Perfect Tense

"has" or "have"
+
[past participle]
  • She has spoken.
  • They have spoken.


Forming the Future Perfect Tense

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

The Perfect Tenses in the Past, Present, and Future

Here are the 12 tenses again. This time, the tenses are ordered under the headings past tense, present tense, and future tense. The perfect (or complete) tenses 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!

The Perfect Aspect

The term perfect aspect is used to group all verbs (past, present, and future) in the perfect tenses. (Remember that the aspect of a verb is determined by whether its action is ongoing or completed.)

Read more about aspect.

Why Should I Care about the Perfect Tenses?

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

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