q Teaching the present perfect | Anne Hodgson

Teaching the present perfect

Recent Posts

Die Grünen hybrider Kongress 2021

Hybrid courses

In the summer of 2021, I had the pleasure of attending a hybrid congress in Berlin: Die Grünen were kicking off their election campaign. The

Read More »


It’s the end of summer, we’re back home from long days in the sun and on the water, and it’s back to classes and many

Read More »

Talk at BESIG 2021 for Cornelsen

Managing your hybrid course with Cornelsen’s Basis for Business Summary This 30-minute talk aimed to give Business English trainers an overview of lessons learned in

Read More »

A longstanding client of mine recently wanted to pick up lessons again with the aim of refreshing his grammar skills, to increase his confidence in using the language which he is already quite proficient in and uses on a daily basis. While I generally am more of a business and communication skills trainer, teaching the mechanics of the language is clearly also a part of the job. So yesterday we decided to look at the present perfect.

Oh, grammar. I’d only just had a chance to review the rules of thumb at Dominic Braham and Anthony Gaughan’s Grammar Workshop for ELTABB on Saturday.

  • Recent past – breaking news and updates
    eg Have you heard the latest?
  • General experience – doesn’t say when
    eg Blue is the Warmest Colour has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. (It won on Sunday.)
  • Unfinished past – the nth time so far, how long or often up to now
    eg It marks the first time that a movie based on a comic book has won the award.
    eg The film has received largely glowing reviews from critics.

On Saturday, Dominic had us think about different approaches to teaching this tricky subject, e.g.

  • keywords
  • concepts
  • standard chunks for typical situations

With advanced learners, I generally prefer to develop concepts based on their experience. That worked best for us yesterday, too, as we contrasted the twin concepts:

  • Review – the game is over (past)
  • Potential – the game is still on (present perfect)

We started with a conceptual grammar drill I learned from Theresa Gorman (thank you!) to clarify the concept of potential contained in one use of the present perfect:

Imagine two people, Bärbel and Justin.

  • Bärbel’s trip to Paris: 22-26 May 2013. Is it over or ongoing? ->over
  • Justin’s trip to Paris: 26 May-3 June 2013. Is it over or ongoing? ->on

Who still has the potential to do something in Paris? Who has come home, and can now look back? Get on the phone to Bärbel and Justin and ask them about their stay in Paris. Include questions starting with “What, where, how many, how long…?”

  • Hi Bärbel! It’s great to hear from you!
 So, how was your trip to Paris? Did you see the Eiffel Tower? Did you…?
  • Hi Justin! How are things?
 How has the trip been so far? Have you seen the Eiffel Tower? Have you…?

This way in clicked. Later I did give him some more examples, but noticed that keywords or set phrases or correct chunks tended to confuse him, whereas the contrastive grammar approach was clear and held his attention.

So we went on to work on twin contrastive settings for him to create phrases for:

Task 1/ Potential: Prepare questions for an asset manager about a property he or she is assessing, to make sure the correct steps will be taken:

  • Have you looked at the level of rents in that area?
  • Have you applied method X to see what the ROI would be? etc.

Task 2/ Review: You and the asset manager are looking back over the year 2012. What steps did you take with the various properties?

  • Did you look at the level of rents in that area?
  • Did you apply method X to see what the ROI would be? etc.


Here is a list of German-English translations showing the main contrastive grammar issues

Present perfect simple for facts, referring to when they came into being (German: Present or “Perfekt” or past)

  • I’ve lived in Germany all my life. (=Ich lebe seit meiner Geburt in Deutschland. Ich habe schon immer in D gelebt.)
    (This is not true, by the way. I’ve actually been here since the 1980s.)
  • I’ve liked football since I was a kid. (= Ich mag Fußball seit meiner Kindheit.)
  • I’ve always liked football. (= Ich habe schon immer Fußball gemocht. Ich mochte schon immer Fußball.)
  • I have been here in Berlin for 2.5 years. (= Ich bin schon seit 2,5 Jahren hier.)
  • I’ve been here since September 2011. (= seit)

Present perfect continuous for ongoing actions referring to when they started. (German: present)

  • I’ve been working on my presentation since yesterday, and I’m almost finished. (= Ich arbeite seit gestern an meiner Präsentation)

Simple past for actions that are over/ facts that are time-boxed, mentioning when they took place/ were true. (German: usually “Perfekt”, past more frequent in literary register)

  • Bärbel went to Paris last week. (= Bärbel ist letzte Woche nach P. gefahren.)
  • I was born in 1961. (= Ich bin 1961 geboren. Lit: Ich wurde 1961 geboren.)
  • After my A-levels, I did an apprenticeship. (= Ich habe nach dem Abi eine Lehre gemacht.)
    (Again, not true. I wish I had!)
  • She completed her course of studies in spring. (= Sie hat im Frühjahr ihr Studium abgeschlossen.)
  • I talked to Julian 10 minutes ago. (= Ich habe vor 10 Minuten mit Julian gesprochen)
  • Bill was an impressive guy. (= Bill war ein beeindruckender Mensch. Bill ist ein beeindruckender Mensch gewesen.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *