Present Perfect Verb Categories

The present perfect is a verb tense that is used very often in English. While many languages either do not have a present perfect tense or use it the same way as the past simple, English uses these two tenses very differently.

Unlike the simple aspect (i.e. present simple or past simple), the present perfect is made up of two parts. The first part, known as the ‘helping’ or ‘auxiliary’ verb, is always the verb ‘to have’. ‘Have’ is then conjugated (changed) in the present tense depending on the subject person:

singularplural
Ihavewehave
youhaveyouhave
he/she/ithastheyhave

The second part of the verb is what makes it ‘perfect’. This second part is known as the past participle, which is a verb form used to show that an action has been completed. The past participle is closely linked with how the past simple tense of a verb is formed. Good news for English learners: the past participle never changes for different people. This is because the helping verb is the one that shows the tense and the person it refers to.

‘Regular Verbs’

Like the past simple, the past participle follows specific rules for a majority of the verbs in English. These are known as ‘regular verbs’. Like the present simple, these verbs add a ‘d’ or ‘ed’ to the end. In fact, the form looks exactly the same (meaning you don’t have to memorise different forms for these verbs)! Some examples include:

  1. to work -> have worked
  2. to beg -> have begged (notice the ‘g’ is also repeated in the past participle)
  3. to cry -> have cried (notice the ‘y’ has also changed to an ‘i’ in the past participle)

‘Irregular Verbs’

As you may have guessed (present perfect!), the most common verbs in English are usually irregular, including for the past participle.

Like in the past simple there are many ways to form the past participle of irregular verbs. Below are some of the

‘To be’

Just like in the past simple, the verb ‘to be’ is irregular. However, it looks more ‘normal’ in its past participle form. That form is ‘been’.

I have been to visit him already.

You have been away.

It has been good to see you again.

We have been to London.

They have been thinking about helping us.

‘To go’

The past participle of ‘go’ is also closer to the base verb. In the past participle, ‘go’ becomes ‘gone’.

I have gone.

Have you gone to the theatre recently?

Where have they gone?

Category 1: No change

Do you remember the verbs that don’t change between the present and past simple tense? Verbs like cut, read and burst? Good news! These also do not change in the present perfect tense either. For example:

  1. to put (/pʊt/) -> have put (/pʊt/)
  2. to set (/sɛt/) -> have set (/sɛt/)
  3. to read (/riːd/) -> have read (/rɛd/) – note the change from long ‘e’ to short ‘e’ sound

For example:

Have you cut your leg in this position before?

I have read a good book that explained a lot about gardening.

Category 2: Same as present tense

Sometimes, the past participle looks the same as the present tense even though the verb changes in the past tense. These verbs are also pronounced the same way in both the present simple and present perfect tenses. Some examples include:

presentsimple pastpast participle
becomebecamebecome
comecamecome

He has become like his father.

Category 3: Add -n to present tense

This next category of verbs has a past participle that looks similar to the present tense or infinitive forms. The difference is that the past participle has the addition of an ‘-n’ or an ‘-en’.

presentsimple pastpast participle
blowblewblown
dodiddone (notice it has an -e. This is important as ‘don’ is another verb in the present tense, which means ‘to wear’)
drawdrewdrawn
eatateeaten
fallfellfallen
forgetforgetforgotten
givegavegiven
growgrewgrown
knowknewknown
seesawseen
shakeshookshaken

For example:

Have you shaken the smoothie well?

You have grown a lot since I last saw you!

Category 4: The same as the past

There are some verbs which have no difference in form between the simple past and the past participle:

presentsimple pastpast participle
bringbroughtbrought
buildbuiltbuilt
catchcaughtcaught
findfoundfound
hanghunghung
lendlentlent
letletlet
meanmeantmeant
meetmetmet
sleepsleptslept
slideslidslid
spendspentspent
standstoodstood
understandunderstoodunderstood

Have you spent all your money? Yes, I have.

I have met you before.

Category 5: Add ‘n’/’en’ to past

Some verbs look very similar to the past simple in their past participle form: the difference is the addition of an ‘n’/’en’ at the end.

presentsimple pastpast participle
freezefrozefrozen
speakspokespoken
wakewokewoken

The lake has frozen over.

Why have I woken up so early?

Category 6: Vowel change

Just as we saw in the simple past, some verbs also have a vowel change in the past particle form that is different to the vowel in the present or past simple forms. Some examples are:

presentsimple pastpast participle
beginbeganbegun
drinkdrankdrunk
singsangsung
sinksanksunk
springsprangsprung
swimswamswum

Some example sentences include:

He has begun to grow old.

Have you sung this song before?

We have swum the length of this swimming pool many times.

Category 7: Vowel change + ‘n’

This category goes one step farther from the previous categories and has two changes. Not only does the vowel change, but an ‘n’ sound is added to the end of the word as well.

presentsimple pastpast participle
flyflewflown
lielaylain
teartoretorn

I have flown with that airline before.

You have torn your dress, haven’t you?

A little more complicated than you thought…

Unfortunately, many of these verbs just have to be learnt. To make matters a little bit more complicated, there are some that have slight differences between different countries:

presentsimple pastpast participle
learn learnt
learned (US/CA)
learnt
learned (US/CA)
burnburnt
burned (US/CA)
burnt
burned (US/CA)
smellsmellt
smelled (US/CA)
smellt
smelled (US/CA)
spellspellt
spelled (US/CA)
spellt
spelled (US/CA)
spillspillt
spilled (US/CA)
spillt
spilled (US/CA)

As you can see, it is usually North American variants of English that go for the -ed ending for these verbs while other dialects continue to use -t, which is how these verbs have historically been spellt (spell -> spellt/spelled). For all of these verbs, the past simple and past participle have the same form, so you only have to learn one form for both. While you should be able to recognise both, if you are focusing on learning a specific dialect of English, you can focus on learning that form that will be more useful for you.

If you liked this post, why not check out my English Language Materials page for more articles. Specialised English topics can also be found under posts such as Doublets (and Triplets) in English or The Basic Characteristics of Scientific Language.

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