Writing Wednesday: Perfect Verb Tenses

Did you know some verb tenses are “perfect”?

Everyone knows about the three “simple” tenses: present, past, and future. However, we also have three “perfect tenses” in English: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.

So what makes a tense “perfect”? The perfect tenses have a version of “have” as a helping verb and use the past participle form of the verb, which is usually an -ed ending.

Why as writers should be care about the perfect tenses? They allow us greater accuracy in explaining exactly when the action of the sentence is happening.

Present Perfect Tense:

We use present perfect tense when something happened in the past but still occurs today. For example, I have made the pumpkin pie for our family’s Thanksgiving dinner for the past twenty years.

Notice the verb have made. I made the pumpkin pie in the past, and I’m still making it for this year’s Thanksgiving feast. In fact, I just took this year’s pie out of the oven an hour ago, and here it is:

Nice, huh?

We form present perfect tense by using the helping verb have (or has, if your subject is third person singular like he, she, or it) and the past participle of your verb. (e.g. I have helped Mom; he has helped Mom, too.)

Past Perfect Tenses:

We use past perfect tenses when something happened prior to something else in the sentence. For example, we had polished off the turkey by the time we started on the pie.

Noticed the verbs had polished and started. The verb started is in regular past tense. Had started is past perfect because it indicates that the action of polishing off the turkey happened prior to starting on the pie.

We form the past perfect by using the helping verb had with past participle.

Future Perfect Tenses:

We used the future perfect tense when we want to indicate that some action will have finished by the time we get to the next one. For example, I will have stuffed the turkey by noon tomorrow.

Notice the verb will have stuffed. It’s telling us that the action of stuffing the turkey will be finished by noon tomorrow. Noon has not arrived yet. In fact, tomorrow has not arrived yet! But by the time it does, the action of stuffing the turkey will already be complete.

We form the future perfect tenses by using the helping verbs will and have before the past participle.

turkey photo credit: Calgary Reviews via photopin

Questions about verb tenses? Got your own Thanksgiving example to share?

Compliments on my pumpkin pie? I’m an expert, you know. 🙂

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2 Responses to Writing Wednesday: Perfect Verb Tenses

  1. Ginny Marie says:

    Wow–you have made the family’s pumpkin pie for the past twenty-one years? That does make you an expert!

  2. AJ Cattapan says:

    Only twenty years, not twenty-one. Obviously, I was two years old when I started. 🙂

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