At some point every ESL learner has to face them – the Perfect Tenses. I say “face” because to some, a PERFECT tense can be a completely new concept.
So what’s so perfect about them? Do they describe perfectly done actions? The truth is that “perfect” in this case does not mean “100%” or “without mistakes”. It simply means the action is complete, finished. “Perfect” comes from the Latin word perficere, which means “make completely, finish”.
We use this tense when we want to describe actions which are already complete.
A verb in the Present Perfect tense shows that the action was complete before the present. For example, the sentence “I have eaten already” shows the action of eating is already complete in the present. I am no longer eating, I finished.
A verb in the Past Perfect tense shows that the action was complete before some point in the past. For example, the sentence “I had eaten already when she offered me an apple” shows the action of eating was already complete when later on somebody offered me an apple.
A verb in the Future Perfect tense shows that the action will be complete before some point in the future. For example, the sentence “I will have eaten by the time you get home” shows the action of eating will be already complete when the other person gets home.
Now, when you understand that basic principle and meaning of the Perfect tenses, you can really use them wisely.
Ola Zur is the editor of Really Learn English with Illustrations, an illustrated guide to English.