Perfect English: When and Where to Use Perfect Tenses

Perfect EnglishAs a writer, you will find yourself writing in a number of different voices, styles and, of course, tenses. Sometimes you may need to write using only present tense, other times, especially in promotional writing, you may refer to the future, and occasionally even the past. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—there are other tenses than simple past, present and future. One category of tenses (or to be completely accurate, modes, but commonly referred to as tenses) are the perfect tenses. Learn about past perfect, present perfect and future perfect and find out when to employ these in your writing. Using these properly helps you achieve a level of expert writing that is necessary for assignments.

Past Perfect

As a writer, you use past perfect to express the concept of something occurring before another past action or before another time in the past. Essentially, it is used to express the past of the past.

The form used for past perfect is had (or had been) + past participle.

Examples of past perfect in use:

  • I couldn’t go to the movies because I had been bad.
  • I only passed the test on Hamlet because I had seen the movie.

Present Perfect

You use present perfect tense when you need to refer to an unspecified time before now. It can be a bit confusing for many writers because it would seem that this is a past tense. However, since you are talking about a time that is before now, but still speaking in the present, it is a type of present tense.

When using present perfect, you use the form has/have + past participle.

Here are two examples of how you would use present perfect:

  • I have seen that evil cat in my neighborhood.
  • Nobody has ever beaten Iron Man.

Future Perfect

Future perfect can be one of the most complicated concepts to understand for new writers. In its simplest form, future perfect refers to something that will one day be the past. It is used when you are looking ahead to a future time when you will be looking back.

The form for future perfect is will + have + past participle or is/are/am + going to have + past participle.

Reading examples of future perfect helps clarify it a bit.

  • She will have gotten married by this time next year.
  • I am going to have purchased season three of Game of Thrones before the next season starts.

While most writers do not have to use these tenses very often, it is important to understand how to utilize them properly. Once you have a good grip on the proper use, your writing will be the best it can possibly be.

Tracy S is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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