Present Perfect Usage 0: When we don’t use Present Perfect

Indication to the point of time in the past

We don’t use Present Perfect when there is indication to the point of time or a period of time that has already finished. It might be expressed explicitly or implicitly.


last + period of time: last year, last time, last month, last night, last week, yesterday

this morning (if speaking in the afternoon and on)

a number + period of time + ago: 1 day ago, 2 months ago, 10 years ago, a year ago (a=1)

during + past event: During World War 2, during his visit

Any other indications to the past events or actions:

When he visited us, ….(not Present Perfect here)

Any other synonyms of when:

At the time, they saw…, (not Present Perfect here)

Other tips:

in + year

In 1999 he graduated from University

on + day

On Monday they went to the movies

On the twentieth of May they went to the movies

Another way to think about it

at a definite point in time in the past:

I had my breakfast at 10 am (exact time expressed by time itself)

They left the room when I came (exact time expressed by another verb!)

She brought a dog home 2 minutes ago

at an indefinite point in time in the past:

I planned to retire ages ago

We forecasted this years ago

approximate time in the past:

Last week (a week ago, a year ago, last year etc) he dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and today he wants to be a doctor

She studied so hard last year


When there is a context that lets us know that the period of time when an action happened is over, we don’t use “Present” Perfect:

Steven Paul Jobs was an American business magnate and investor. He was the chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Apple Inc.

(This was an example from a Wikipedia article) From the general knowledge about this legendary man, we can definitely and unfortunately say that we are talking about the period of time that has already finished. There may be different situations where you can figure out if the time period when an action happened is over.

When an action took place somewhere and we can replace the place with the when construction, we use Past Simple and other tenses, but we don’t use Present Perfect:

I bought it in Moscow

I bought it when I was in Moscow

This is because there is an indication to time period that has already finished.


There may be many indications that the period of time when an action took place was over, I just gave you the most common ones, and for some students it’s difficult to distinguish if the time period referred to is over or not. So here is the bullet proof, 100 % working tip:

100% working tip

1 Remove the Participle 2 (the third form of the verb, the past participle) and the rest of the sentence, but don’t remove the time period / point:

I have done my lessons yesterday –> I have yesterday

2 Replace the removed portion with a noun:

I have a car yesterday

3 Translate that sentence into your native language. Does it sound good in your language. Of course not. So don’t use Present Perfect in the case.

Actually we’ve come up to the point why Present Perfect expresses (first use of Present Perfect) a completed action in the past but is still called present. That is because of the verb have that expresses possession in the present (have / has) of a completed action (Participle 2) in the past (that is why it’s called Past Participle, you can call it Participle 2). As you can notice, although the verb have is not the main verb, it might have a meaning of it’s own. Which is a nice observation by the way. Let me repeat it without fancy words:

I have done my lessons

The verb have expresses possession in the present (have), of a completed in the past action (done)

That’s why it’s Present Completed, well, Present Perfect I meant to say

And we are done!

More on Present Perfect:

Back to: Present Perfect Tense

2 thoughts on “Present Perfect Usage 0: When we don’t use Present Perfect”

  1. When you park your car in the UK, you can see a sign that says “Have you paid and displayed your ticket?”. Which use of Present Perfect is this? Is it the unfinished time period (Since the very moment I parked, I have had the opportunity to buy a ticket and that opportunity hasn’t finished yet) or is it the other use of Present Perfect for recent actions with results/relevance in the present (For example “Have you paid and displayed your ticket?… because it’s important to do it right now”)

    1. We use Present Perfect when there is no time indication at all. But in this case both Present Perfect and Past Simple could be used. But when we want to show the results of past actions in the present, we use Present Perfect. So, in your example, it is a question targeted at the result that we can see NOW. In addition, if we invert this question to an answer, it will sound something like:

      I have paid and displayed my ticket, that is why at this very moment, right now, I have the right to keep my car here. (See Lesson: Present Perfect: Past action with present consequences)

      Additionally, there are signal words for Present Perfect (if no time indicated at all or if there are no past time indications, such as yesterday or last week.):

      Already, yet, never, ever, etc.

      So, this question would perfectly sound like this:

      Have you paid and displayed your ticket yet? (See: Present Perfect: Recent action)

      just / recently / lately , already and yet can also express not only the completeness, but recentness. In your question it’s more of completeness with present results, but they might also want to know if your recent actions allow you to do something right now. Completeness and recentness might be very closely correlated in terms of causal link. But in this case it’s more of present results.

      I have recently been to Italy. (recentness)
      I have just seen John. (recentness)

      I have (already) paid for my ticket. (present result of past action (it doesn’t matter recent or not)). That is why NOW I have certain rights.

      Thank you for a very good question!

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