Grammar Guide: Perfect Tenses

January is a month for movies! With the Sundance Film Festival taking place in Utah right now and the Academy Awards underway, people all over the world are thinking of great movies from the past, present, and future. 

Perfect Tenses
The perfect aspect of English verbs gives the action or situation a point of reference. This point of reference could occur in the present, the past, or the future. Rather than viewing the verb as a single, simple action or situation, the perfect generally emphasizes this action or situation in relation to another.

We form the perfect by using a form of HAVE + the past participle.

Present Perfect
The present perfect tense can have three meanings:
1. The action or situation has occurred in relation to the present time.
  • Millie has already seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • I have never filmed my own movie before.
2. The action or situation has occurred multiple times in the past in relation to the present time.
  • We have gone to the movie theater every Friday this semester.
  • I have watched James Bond over 20 times!
3. The action or situation started in the past and has continued until the present time.
  • John has been an actor since he was 8 years old.
  • Julie has lived in Hollywood for 11 years.
Past Perfect
The past perfect shows, of two events in the past, which happened first. 
  • We started watching the movie at 9 p.m. Sarah came to our party at 9:40. We had already started the movie by the time Sarah came.
  • Michael did not finish writing the script for his movie. The team wanted to start filming anyway. Michael had not finished planning the script when the team started filming his movie.
  • I watched The Help on Tuesday. My friends invited me to see it with them on Friday. Before my friends invited me to see The Help, I had already seen it.
Future Perfect
The future perfect shows, of two events in the future, which happened first.
  • We are not finished writing our script. The other team is already filming their movie. By the time we finish writing our script, the other team will have finished filming their movie.
  • Jamie has been in 9 movies. She is acting in her 10th movie right now. Jamie will have acted in 10 movies when they finish filming this one.
  • We started waiting for the movie one hour ago, at 10 p.m. The movie begins in one hour, at midnight. We will have waited for 2 hours by the time the movie starts.
The following is a description of the Sundance Institute, the institute that sponsors the Sundance Film Festival. Notice how they use the present perfect to describe what they do.
  • "Since 1981, Sundance Institute has evolved to become an internationally-recognized nonprofit organization that actively advances the work of risk-taking storytellers worldwide. Originally founded by Robert Redford in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, Sundance Institute has always provided a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures. By providing year-round creative and financial support for the development of original stories for the screen and stage, Sundance Institute remains committed to its mission to discover and develop independent artists and audiences across the globe."
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