Past, Present, and Future Perfect Tenses with Examples

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Introduction to Perfect Tenses

Have you ever learned what a perfect tense is? English tenses are so rich that there is some tense that so beautifully captures the essence of every action that happens in the world – tense-wise. In other words, no action ever goes unattended or not represented. All actions are represented by at least one – in many cases more than one – of the 12 tenses in English. Just as we have progressive tenses to talk about things that are going on, we have perfect tenses to express actions that are completed.

What Is a Perfect Tense?

As the name suggests, a perfect tense denotes an action that is completed. Perfect tenses can appear in any of the three forms: the past perfect tense, the present perfect tense, and the future perfect tense. As is the case with every tense in English, each perfect tense has a unique formula. In this lesson, we are going to discuss in detail the functions of each of the three perfect tenses in English.

The Three Perfect Tenses

The three perfect tenses are past perfect tense, present perfect tense, and future perfect tense.

Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense, also called the pluperfect tense, is one of the higher-order tenses and using it correctly is often not a piece of cake. The problem is many people use the simple past and past perfect interchangeably, which is not something we encourage because each of these tenses has its own specific functions. Imagine that you awaked a little late this morning, rushed through your daily routine, and hurried to the metro hoping to catch the usual 8 o’clock train so you could reach work by 9. But to your dismay, the train was just leaving when you reached the station. Frustrated, you might want to call your boss and tell him something like this. "I’m going to be a little late to work today because when I reached the station, the train had already left."

The past perfect tense is interesting because it enables you to compare different actions and times in the past. So, students should know when and how to use the past perfect tense so they add more insight and diversity to their sentences.

How to Form the Past Perfect Tense

The formula of the past perfect tense is had + past participle.

Examples of Past Perfect Tense

Roberto had studied German before he moved to Germany.

By the time Constance came home, Grandma had already gone back.

The Taylors didn’t want to sell the car because they had owned it for many years.

Heather had once or twice tried to get in touch with the company before she filed a complaint.

Clifford didn’t know how to write the assignment because he had never been given one before.

The school looked very different from what Little Jasper had expected.

If I had worked harder, I would have passed the test in the first attempt.

A Useful Past Perfect Chart

Past Perfect
to arrive
had arrived
had not arrived
Had they arrived?
to cook
had cooked
had not cooked
Had he cooked?
to stop
had stopped
had not stopped
Had it stopped?
to drive
had driven
had not driven
Had he driven?
to meet
had met
had not met
Had they met?
to grow
had grown
had not grown
Had it grown?

Functions of Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect is used in four different ways.

  • A, To talk about the earlier of two past actions or states


    When the firefighters arrived, the building had already crumbled.

    Dad had gone shopping when I reached home.

    I hadn’t copied the file before the computer crashed.

    Because he hadn’t eaten well, Chris couldn’t work at his best.

    The robbers had just made their getaway when the police arrived.

    It’s important to note that each of the above sentences has two actions – one taking place after another. While the action that happens first is represented using the past perfect, the action that occurs second is written using the past simple. Let’s, for instance, take a look at the first sentence — when the firefighters arrived, the building had already crumbled. There are two actions – the arrival of firefighters and the crumbling of the building. It’s the crumbling that happens first, so it has been said in a past perfect tense. It’s the arrival of firefighters that takes place next, so it has been expressed in a simple past.

  • B, To denote the time up to a point in the past


    By the time Juanita was ten, she had published her second story.

    Derek had eaten half the cake before Ron was home.

    Before it was time for the service, we had all reached the church.

  • C, To form the if clause in third conditionals


    If Eddie had gone to bed earlier, he could have awaked earlier too.

    Rosemary would have finished reading the book if she had had enough time off.

    Martha could have had lots of free time if she had completed the chores in the morning.

    If an employment opportunity had come up at our company, I would have offered it to you.

  • D, To refer to something we regret having done or not having done in the past


    I wish I hadn’t used up the milk.

    I wish I hadn’t eaten at that restaurant.

    They wish they had bought some more vegetables.

    In the first example – I wish I hadn’t used up the milk – the person has used all the milk they had and has no more milk left now. The speaker is apparently badly in need of some milk and regrets having used up the milk.

Adverbs with Past Perfect

The adverbs used with the past perfect tense include already, always, just, still, ever, and never.


We tried to contact him, but he had already left the office.

Zachary had just graduated from college when he got the job.

Before she visited the Turtle Back Zoo, Barbara had never visited any zoo in New Jersey.

Mr. Wright said ours was the best class he had ever taught.

Grandpa said he had always wanted to become a pilot.

Difference between Past Simple and Past Perfect

Use past simple and not past perfect for actions that occurred at a specific time in the past.


Lopez came back from school at 2 o’clock. (Correct)

Lopez had come back from school at 2 o’clock. (Incorrect)

The booking closed half an hour ago. (Correct)

The booking had closed half an hour ago. (Incorrect)

Mom visited Aunt Jemima yesterday. (Correct)

Mom had visited Aunt Jemima yesterday. (Incorrect)

Present Perfect Tense

Not many days pass by when we don’t need to use the present perfect tense. Imagine you are waiting for a friend at a coffee shop, and there is simply no sign of him coming. Having to wait for so long is driving you up the wall, and then whoosh he comes. Although your friend has finally come and the two of you are now going to have a blast savoring your choicest snacks and drinking your favorite coffee, you are still not very pleased with what he did to you – making you wait so long. What will you tell him? You might say something like this. “Where have you been all this while? The present perfect tense is used to denote actions that have both a past and present connection.

How to Form the Present Perfect Tense

The formula for the present perfect is has/have + past participle.

Examples of Present Perfect Tense

Clayton has lived in New Jersey all his life.

Geraldine has worked really hard on this project.

We have eaten at this restaurant five times.

Ever since the Youngs moved to the city, they have lived in this street.

Have you ever visited the Statue of Liberty?

The patient has become pale over the last hour.

A Useful Present Perfect Chart

Present Perfect
to arrive
has/have arrived
has not/have not arrived
Has he arrived?
to cook
has/have cooked
has not/have not cooked
Have they cooked?
to stop
has/have stopped
has not/have not stopped
Has it stopped?
to drive
has/have driven
has not/have not driven
Has she driven?
to meet
has/have met
has not/have not met
Have you met?
to grow
has/have grown
has not/have not grown
Have they grown?
to travel
has/have traveled
has not/have not traveled
Have we traveled?

Functions of Present Perfect Tense

There are three different purposes for which the present perfect tense is used.

  • To denote an action that started in the past and is continuing in the present


    Mrs. Morgan has taught English for well over 20 years.

    This store has served amazing coffee for a very long time.

    My father has worked in the steel industry for five years.

  • To refer to an action that is repeatedly happening between the past and now


    Our dog has gone missing several times already.

    Ann has practiced the song more than five times.

    How many times have you seen The Lion King?

  • To express an action whose time is not known or important


    Uncle Jeremy has passed away.

    Someone has taken my phone.

    Martha has completed her assignment.

Adverbials Used with Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is often accompanied by an adverbial such as just, yet, recently, so far, ever, never, and so on.


Have you cleaned all rooms yet?

So far, I have cleaned only the bedroom.

Have you read any interesting books recently?

Ever, Never, Never Ever

As the present perfect is often used to talk about life experiences, we often use ever and never with it. While the positive ever means at any time, the negative never means not at any time or not on any occasion. Sometimes, we use never ever to emphasize the negative.


Have you ever been to New York City?

I have never read anything more exciting.

Ever since they got married, Janet and John have never ever thought of breaking up.

Future Perfect Tense

Unlike its present and past counterparts, the future perfect tense is easy to understand. Imagine you have a bad toothache and Dad has arranged for you to consult a doctor at 5 o’clock – after your school. Unfortunately, you can’t make it at 5, and you call the hospital to check if they can let you meet the doctor at around 6. The receptionist says something like this "The doctor will have left by 5.30, so please try to make it before that". The future perfect tense refers to actions that will be completed at a certain point in the future.

How to Form Future Perfect Tense

The formula for the future perfect tense is will + have + past participle.

Examples of Future Perfect Tense

Shannon will have finished mopping by 1 o’clock.

I don’t think Brandon will have learned swimming by spring.

Will Grandma have told the story by the time I reach home?

Courtney will have brushed her teeth by the time Mom prepares breakfast.

When we finally move to the new house, the neighborhood will have tremendously changed.

Hector will have married Beverly when we see him again after two years.

A Useful Future Perfect Chart

Future Perfect
to arrive
will have arrived
will not have arrived
Will you have arrived?
to cook
will have cooked
will not have cooked
Will they have cooked?
to stop
will have stopped
will not have stopped
Will it have stopped?
to drive
will have driven
will not have driven
Will she have driven?
to meet
will have met
will not have met
Will they have met?
to grow
will have grown
will not have grown
Will it have grown?

Functions of Future Perfect Tense

There are three different purposes for which the future perfect tense is used.

  • A, To talk about future ambitions


    By the time I’m 25, I will have started doing my first job.

    I will have gotten married by 30.

    I will have had two children by 35.

    By age 45, I will have made money enough for me and my family to travel to our favorite countries.

  • B, To attribute a duration to an action that starts before and continues up to another action or time in the future


    By 6 o’clock, Nicole will have worked on the math assignment for one hour.

    When Calvin meets his favorite author tomorrow, they will have talked to each other on social media for 3 months.

  • C, To refer to an action that we assume will be completed at a certain time in the future but don’t know when


    By the time she turns 21, Olivia will have moved to her own apartment.

    The Nelsons will have opened a new restaurant by Christmas next year.

  • D, To make a guess about something we assume happened in the past


    By now, the Wilsons will have come back from their Asian trip.

    Melinda will have received her certificate last week.

Time Phrases in Future Perfect

Since the future perfect looks ahead to a particular time, the sentence is often accompanied by time phrases. Such phrases include by + an occasion/time, in + a period of time/year, and a period of time + from now, etc.


By next week, we will have completed half the book.

In January next year, Mr. Howard will have taught in our school for three years.

Eleven months from now, we will have expanded our business to New York City.

The government will have formed the new health care policy by spring.