A Problem Tense to Teach: The Present Perfect? ( A Turkish Point of View)
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A Problem Tense to Teach: The Present Perfect? ( A Turkish Point of View)



The perfect in English creates problems for both elementary and advanced learners. It is interpreted frequently as an optional alternative to the simple past tense; this interpretation of its function leads to frequent errors of tense usage. Difficulties with the present perfect tense are often reinforced by faulty teaching. The basic uses of the perfect are outlined and contrasted with the functions of the simple past tense. (Richards, 1979:95)
1. Introduction
The present perfect tense is one of the most, probably the most, problematic tenses for foreign language learners. It is not so easy to learn for foreign language learners, Turkish students in this study, to be able to use the present perfect tense correctly and appropriately for the appropriate situations as they have difficulties in grasping it. This tense is usually confused with the simple past by the Turkish students. The differences between the present perfect and the past simple are complicated and difficult to analyse, and the rules given in grammars are not always very clear and accurate (Swan, 1982:493). Not only in Turkish but also in many of the European languages present perfect is used as the simple past tense. Even American usage is also not exactly the same as British.
The use of present perfect tense appears to create special difficulties for foreign learners in sentences as follows.
·         He has never met you before. (during the whole of past time up to the present)
·         That is the second time someone has interrupted me this evening. (during the whole of this evening and up to now)
·         This is the first cigarette I?ve smoked. (during the whole of today and up to now)
The present perfect in the sentences above automatically implies ?until now?. Considering the difficulties in comprehending this tense for Turks and misusing, this study intends to clarify the differences between the present perfect and past simple.
2. The Meaning of the Present Perfect Tense.
The present perfect is almost a kind of present tense. When we say that something has happened, or has been happening, we are generally thinking about the present as well as the past. Hence, we can say that this tense is a sort of mixture of present and past. It always implies a strong connection with the present and is chiefly used in conversations, letters, newspapers and television and radio reports.  When we make a present perfect sentence, we could usually make a present tense about the same situation. Difficulties for foreign learners arise either from the fact that their own language hasn?t led them to look at events in this way, or from the fact that their language contains a verb from that looks similar to the English form but operates differently. For example:
·         I have known you for a long time. (I know you well.)
·         I have been working all day. (And I am tired.)
·         Jane has gone to England. (She is in England now)
·         Have you read that book? (Do you know it?)
3. How to Use the Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect describes a past happening which is related in some way to the present. So it can be regarded as a tense of past happening-related-to-present time (Leech and Startwik, 1996:68). The place of the present perfect tense is shown in the following diagram.
There are two factors that appear to operate in determining an English speaker?s choice.
i) The perfect forms indicate that an action or event occurs before the time indicated by the context. We can, therefore, distinguish between;
a) Come over and see us when our guests leave.
b) Come over and see us when our guests have left.
The first sentence might suggest that the arrival of one set of visitors will coincide with the leaving of the other, whereas the second one clearly indicates that ?our guests? will no longer be with us when our visitors come.
ii) The perfect forms also indicate that an action or event has produced a result or state of affairs that is relevant to the current situation, and there is often a casual connection between the  time (adverbial) clause and main clause.
E.g. You will feel a lot better after you?ve had a rest.
The conjunction ?after? itself clearly establishes the time relationship between the two activities or events rather than to establish a time difference between them.  The conjunctions commonly used to introduce time (adverbial) clauses are: when, as soon as, before, after, until, once, by the time ?etc.
We can summarise the use of the present perfect tense by analysing it in two groups:
a) Actions and situations continuing up to the present. b) Finished actions and events.
Now let?s analyse them one by one.
a. Actions and Situations Continuing up to Present
1. We often use the present perfects tense to talk about actions and situations which began in the past, and which have continued up to the moment when we speak (or just before). For example:
·         I have lived (or I have been living) in Ankara since 1989. (Not I am living ?.)
·         We have known each other for a long time. (Not we know ?.)
·         The taxi has arrived. (It is now outside.)
·         All police leave has been cancelled. (The police remain on duty)
·         Her doll has been broken. (It?s still not mended)
2. We also use the present perfect to talk about a series of repeated actions which happened up to the present. For example:
·         I have often wondered where she gets her money
·         We have been seeing a lot of Henry and Diana recently.
·         I have written four letters today.
·         How often have you been in love in your life?
1.      ?Since? and ?For? are used with the present perfect tense to indicate beginning  or
duration or continuance of an action or state of affairs up to the time specified by the context or situation.
i. Since is used with a phrase or clause denoting the beginning of an action or state of affairs, to indicate the continuance of that action or state of affairs from the time specified until the present time, or until the time specified in the past. For example:
·         I have lived in Ankara since 1989.
·         We haven?t seen each other since we left the school.
ii. For is used with the phrase denoting a period of time, to indicate the duration or continuance of an action or state of affairs up to the time specified by the context or situation. For example:
·         I have lived in Ankara for ten years.
·         We haven?t seen each other for a long time.
4. Present perfect is used for long actions and situations which started in the past and went on until very recently. For example:
·         I have painted the rooms since lunchtime.
·         A: You look hot.
B: Yes, I have been running.
·         I have been reading your book. It is not bad.
5. The present perfect is often used with expressions of time which refer to a period ?up to now?: for instance, all this year, all my life, so far, during the 20th century, recently, lately, since, for up to now, up to present. We do not use the present perfect. For example:
·         He has worked hard all this year.
·         Nothing has been declared so far.
·         Have you seen him lately?
·         I haven?t smoked all my life.
b. Finished Actions and Events
1. The present perfect simple is often used to talk about past actions and events which are completely finished. This only happens when the past events have some present importance; usually they are ?news?, and generally we could make a present tense sentence about the same situation. For example:
·         The president has been assassinated. (The president is dead.)
·         The USA declared war on Iraq. (Iraq and the USA are at war.)
·         I can?t play football because I have broken my leg. (My leg is broken.)
·         I have been all over K?r?kkale. ( I know K?r?kkale well.)
·         I have seen this film before. I don?t want to see it again now
·         She has left the company. She doesn?t work there now.
2. Present perfect is often used to give news: it is especially common in reports, letters and conversations. For example:
·         She has had a baby. It?s a boy.
·         According to the latest reports, the NATO forces have pushed back the Serbs and retaken   the town.
·         I am sorry to tell you that you have failed your exam.
3.  Present perfect is also used to talk about past actions which are not recent, but are ?still with us? as part of our experience and knowledge. For example:
·         I have never been to the USA. ( So I can still have it)
·         Have you read ?War and Peace?? (Do you know War and Peace?)
4.  Present perfect is used after a superlative. For example:
·         It is the most interesting film I have ever seen.
·         He is the best teacher I have ever met.
·         This is the first time I have smoked.
5.  We don?t use definite time expressions in present perfect tense when we want to talk about a past event. With adverbs of finished time we normally use past simple. If we say ?when? a past event happened (for example by using time expressions) we do not usually use the present perfect tense. For example: 
·         The president has been assassinated.
The president was assassinated last year.
·         He has left.
He has left an hour ago.
·         The USA has declared war on Iraq.
The USA declared war on Iraq two months ago.
·         I have spoken the boss about my holiday.
I spoke to the boss about my holiday yesterday.
6. The present perfect is often used with time adverbs like never, just ever, before, yet, already, still. For example:
·         A: Could I speak to Jane, please?
B: I am afraid, she has just left. (A short time ago)
·         A: Is Jane going to phone you later?
B: No, she has already phoned me. (Jane phoned before Bill expected her to phone.)
·         The post hasn?t arrived yet. ( It probably will arrive)
·         Have you paid the bill yet? (Perhaps you have not paid the bill, but you are going to pay it soon.)
·         I haven?t been to England before.
·         Mrs. Bell is out. Jenny and Nick are cooking dinner to surprise her.
Jenny: I?ve washed the lettuce and I?ve chopped the tomatoes. I can make the salad now.
Nick: No you can?t. You haven?t peeled the potatoes yet.
Jenny: Oh yes. I have. Look! Here they are. I have already cooked them. And what have you done? Have you finished the washing up yet?
Nick: Yes, I have just finished the washing up.
1.      We introduce an event with the present perfect, but we continue to talk about
it with the Past Simple.
·         A: Ann has broken her arm.
B: How did she break it?
A: She fell on some rocks.
8. When we talk about past events which have no present importance, we do not use the present perfect tense, past simple is used instead. For example:
·         Lincoln was assassinated for political purposes.
·         Some people think that Shakespeare travelled a lot in Germany.
c. Summary
Here is a summary of the main uses of the Present Perfect Tense
·         Talking about something which began in the past and hasn?t changed. (Especially with for, since.)
·         Talking about general experience: e.g. what have you done in your life up to now? (especially with ever or never)
·         Talking about recent events or states. (especially with already, still and yet)
·         Talking about very recent events. (with just)
·         Talking about events whose results are still noticeable. (especially with the Present Perfect Progressive)
·         Talking about events after a superlative. e.g. It is the worst film I have ever seen.
4. Some Suggested Supplementary Activities.
1.      A. Complete the dialogues using the Present Perfect or Past Simple.
A: I???????.. (see) Mert last night.
B: Oh really, I??????????.. (not see) him for two years. How is he?
A: We??????? (go) to the theatre two days ago.
B: ???????. you (enjoy) the play?
A: Yes, it???????? (be) very good.
A: I ??????????. (never/hear) of this group before. Are they famous?
B: Yes, they are very popular. They ?????????(be) famous for years.
1.      B. Choose the correct sentences.
1.      a. I saw Ali five days ago.
b. I have seen Ali five days ago.
1.      a. Did you ever eat Chinese food?
b. Have you ever eaten Chinese food?
1.      a. He is the funniest person I met.
b. He is the funniest person I have ever met.
1.      a. Ali has been to America. He is in America now
b. Ali has been to America. He is back now.
1.      a. Have you ever tried Japanese food in your life?
b. Have you ever tried Japanese food last year?
1.      a. I haven?t yet finished my homework
b. I haven?t finished my homework yet.
1.      a. They have lived in Ankara for two years.
b. They have lived in Ankara since two years.
1.      a. I ate two sandwiches yesterday evening.
b. I have eaten two sandwiches yesterday evening.
1.      C. Complete the story. Put the verb in brackets into the Present Perfect or Past Simple tense.
One Sunday evening two men (a)??????. (Meet) in a London pub. One of them was very unhappy.
?Life is terrible, everything in the world is really boring? he said.
?Don?t say that,? said the other man.
?Life is marvellous! The world is so exciting! Think about Italy. It is a wonderful country. (b) ????you ever????.. (Be) there??
?Oh, yes. I (c)?????. (Be) there last year and I (d)???????.. (Not like) it.?
?Well, (e)?????.you (be) to Norway??
?Oh yes. I (f)???? (Go) in 1989 and I (g)?????(see) the midnight sun. And I (h)?????just????.. (Return) from safari in Africa. I (i)????. (Not enjoy) it. It was really boring.?
?Well,? said the other man. ?I think you are very ill. Only the best psychiatrist can help you. Go to see Dr. Greenbaum in Harley Street.?
?I am Dr. Greenbaum? answered the man sadly.
(New Headway Elementary:2008)
D. Complete each sentence with already, still, yet or just.
1.      My room is dirty. I haven?t cleaned it ?????.
2.      My room is clean. I have ?????cleaned it.
3.      My room isn?t clean enough for my mom. She thinks I ?????.haven?t cleaned it.
4.      I can?t believe that you?????haven?t finished studying.
5.      I haven?t studied ???.
6.      Have you finished studying???.
E. Write answers to the questions.
1.      What is the best film you have ever seen?
2.      What is the most beautiful place you have ever been to?
3.      What is the funniest TV programme you have ever seen?
4.      What is the most interesting thing you have ever done?
5.      Who is the best teacher you have ever met?
Leech, G. and Startvik, J.(1994). A Communicative Grammar of English. New York: Longman
Richards, C.J. (1979). Introducing Grammar the Perfect: An Exercise in Pedagogic: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 13. No.4
Soars, L. and Soars, J. (2008). Headway Elementary Course Book, Oxford University Press: London.
Swan, M. (1982). Practical English Usage. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
?smail ÇAKIR, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and currently working in ELT Department, Faculty of Education, Kayseri, Turkey. He has several publications on foreign language teaching, and is specifically interested in teaching English to, teacher trainer, teaching young learners, teaching language skills, teaching culture etc.
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