A lot of my students have trouble answering questions like “Have you been to California?” Using the present perfect tense seems tricky, but I promise you it doesn’t have to be!
The present perfect tense can be super easy and I’m going to show you how. I will give you lots and lots of examples, and at the end, we’ll do a quiz to test your understanding and help you learn even more.
Now, if you enjoy this lesson, the second half is in my complete course. You can get on the waiting list to join at GoNaturalEnglish.com/prereg. Inside the course, you’ll find much more, like common mistakes and how to avoid them. You’ll find native speaker tips and you’ll have the opportunity to do assignments and get feedback and receive corrections and advice for your improvement from me.
The Present Perfect Tense
Let’s jump into the lesson. “Have you been to California?” is in the present perfect tense. This tense can often be confusing for English learners. Don’t worry! The present perfect is actually easy.
When Do We Use Present Perfect?
When do we use the present perfect tense? We use it when we want to describe an experience we have had, or for “states of being.” Let’s talk more about these two situations.
Here’s an example of an experience:
I have been to Japan.
Japan is a place that I have been to, or traveled to, and we use the present perfect for talking about an event or an action that started in the past and continues into the present time. The time in the past in which it happened is not important. In this sentence, it isn’t important to know when I went to Japan. The important thing is that it occurred sometime in the past, and that it’s relevant to the present situation.
Here are some examples of states of being:
I have been sick.
I have been busy.
That’s a state of being. It just describes how you were feeling at some time in the past. This is different from the simple past, where we talk about an event that started and finished at a specific time. For example, I was sick on Tuesday, or I was busy when you called.
So we see that the present perfect focuses on the experience, not on the time it started and finished.
How do we form the present perfect?
To create a sentence with the present perfect, we need three things:
Subject + have/has + past participle.
Let’s use the past participle of the verb to be, which is been.
I have been
You have been
He / She / It has been
We have been
They have been
Native speakers often use contractions when we use have as a helping verb. So, these become:
He’s been /She’s been / It’s been
Listen for those contractions, because sometimes when people speak quickly, it’s hard to hear them.
How do you respond to a question like “Have you been to California?”
It’s simple! If you have been to California, then say, “Yes, I have been to California.” However, you don’t need to repeat the entire question unless you want to be very dramatic. Instead, it would be more natural to say, “Yes, I have.” or “Yes, I’ve been there.”
Gabby’s Tip – Please note that we don’t use the word “to” before here and there, like we do before the name of a place. For example:
Have you been to California?
Yes, I’ve been there. or Yes, I’m living here.
Let’s look at another example.
Have you been sick?
You can say:
Yes, I have.
Yes, I have been sick.
Yes, I’ve been sick.
To answer in the negative, you can say:
No, I have not been sick.
No, I haven’t been sick.
No, I haven’t.
Gabby’s Tip – You can see that it’s okay to use a contraction with “not” at the end of a sentence.
No, I have not.
However, we would not use a contraction at the end of a sentence if the answer is affirmative. I can’t say, ”Yes, I’ve.” I need to say, “Yes, I’ve been sick.” So don’t use a contraction in the affirmative without anything after it.
Another common conversational question
Another question you might hear a lot is:
Have you been up to anything lately?
This sentence uses the phrasal verb up to which I talked about in another lesson. You can read about it right here.
“Have you been up to anything lately?” simply means, “What have you been doing lately?” You could answer in a lot of different ways:
Yeah, I’ve been up to a lot of new things.
Yeah, so much.
Yeah, so many things.
No, not much.
A Personal Example
Let me share a personal example. I’ve been in Los Angeles for four months. Usually the weather’s been nice. but recently, this past week, it’s been cold and rainy.
Did you notice when I use the present perfect?
My state of being – I’ve been in Los Angeles for four months.
The state of the weather in Los Angeles. Since I’ve been here, the weather’s been really nice. However. the state of the weather in the past week has not been very nice. It’s been cold and rainy.
Let’s test your understanding and see what we can learn from taking the quiz together. I’m going to ask a question, then give an answer. Tell me if you think the answer is correct – yes or no.
- Have you been to California?
Yes, I’ve been to there.
Is this a correct answer? If you said no, then you are correct. It’s so close! It’s almost correct, but we cannot use to before there so the correct answer would be, “Yes, I’ve been there.”
- Have you been here a long time?
Yes, I’ve three years here.
Is this a correct answer? This is a mistake that I hear a lot of English learners make. “Yes, I’ve three years here” is incorrect. Why? In this case, we can’t make “have” into a contraction, because we are using it as a regular verb. We can only make a contraction with “have” when we are using it as a helping verb, with a past participle after it.
For example, you can say:
I have potatoes.
I have a lot of work to do.
But you can’t say:
I’ve a lot of work to do.
You can’t put a noun after I’ve. It needs to be followed by a past participle.
Let’s also talk about another mistake that a lot of English learners make. When you are talking about a state of being in the past, you need to use the present perfect. You can’t say:
Yes, I have three years here.
You need to say:
Yes, I have lived here for three years.
Yes, I’ve been here a long time.
Yes, I have. (but not Yes, I’ve. – remember?)
- Have you improved your English?
Yes, I has improved a lot.
Is this correct? Yes or no? If you said no, you are correct. I did not conjugate this helping verb correctly. I said, “I has improved a lot.” I need to say, “I have improved a lot.”
How Did You Do on the Quiz?
I hope this quiz was helpful for you to learn even more. Did you enjoy this lesson? Leave a comment and let me know how you did on the quiz!
Now, if you’d like to learn more the Go Natural English way, find out more about our complete English course and how it can benefit you. Join the information wait list at GoNaturalEnglish.com/pre-reg and learn more about the present perfect, and much more! See you there!