Difference Between Present Perfect and Past Perfect

Main Difference – Present Perfect vs. Past Perfect

The perfect tenses are the tenses that are used to describe actions that are already completed. There are three perfect tenses in the English language; present perfect, past perfect and future perfect. The main difference between Present Perfect and Past Perfect is that present perfect describes an action that happened in the recent past or an action that started in the past and continues to the present whereas past perfect refers to an action that has happened in the past.

What is Present Perfect Tense


In the Present Perfect formation, has or have is used as the auxiliary verb followed by the past participle of the base verb. For example,

Has/Have + Past Participle

She has lived in France for 10 years.

Have you finished your work?


Present Perfect can be used to talk about an action that has happened before now, that does not include a specific time. It can be used to describe,


He has been to Europe four times.

I have never traveled by train.

Change that has taken place over time

I have grown taller.

Her French has improved since she moved to Belgium.


Scientists have found a cure for this deadly disease.

Several different actions which have taken place in the past at different times

The invaders have tried to conquer the kingdom five times.

She has solved many problems in this project.

In all the above actions, you can notice that the specific time is not important.

Present Perfect also describes an action that started in the past and continues to the present. For instance,

 She has lived in India for 10 years now.

What is Past Perfect Tense


The past perfect tense is formed by adding the auxiliary verb had to the past participle.

Had + Past Participle

I had finished breakfast by the time he arrived.

She had never seen a tiger until she visited the zoo.


The usage of past perfect is similar to that of the present perfect, but past perfect refers to a time in the past, not present. Past Perfect tense is used to describe an action that happened before another action in the past. For example,

Action 1: Anne ate her breakfast at 7.00 am.

Action 2: I woke up at 8.00 am.

Then we can say that,

When I woke up this morning, Anne has already eaten her breakfast.

You can clarify this usage by observing the following examples.

I understood the movie only because I had read the book.

She had never seen a skyscraper before last night.

We couldn’t get tickets because we had not booked in advance.

Past perfect can be also used to talk about an action that was repeated several times up to a point in the past and repeated again after that point.

He had published three books, and he was working on another one.

Past perfect is also used to express in the conditional form to express wishes, hypotheses, and conditions.

I would have helped you if you had asked.

He would have gone to the party if he had had free time.

Difference Between Present Perfect and Past Perfect


Present Perfect is used for something that started in the past and continues to the present.

 Past Perfect is used for something that started in the past and continued up to a given point in the past.

Past vs. Present

Present Perfect has a connection to the present.

Past Perfect does not have a connection to the present.

Specific Time

Present Perfect can use specific time words and phrases.

Past Perfect can use specific time words and phrases.


Present Perfect is not used in the conditional formations.

Past perfect is used in the conditional formations.Difference Between Present Perfect and Past Perfect - infographic

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