It’s got to be … Perfect

Do you have trouble with Perfect forms in English? Then this post is for you.

I’m a teacher myself and I see that one problem learners have, from intermediate to advanced, is using Perfect forms correctly.

And keep this quiet … but teachers have problems teaching Perfect forms too! 

It’s just not that easy because …

  • There’s no ONE easy rule for Perfect forms.
  • People learn Perfect forms as tenses – when they’re not!
  • Teachers teach ‘perfect tenses’ which people don’t use!

So this post aims to clear up the confusion for English language learners.

Let’s clear up one thing first. The Perfect form is not a tense  which shows a specific time in relation to a speaker – but an aspect which focuses on how an action is done, like if it’s complete or not, or if it’s temporary.

English has two tenses, past and present, where the main verb form changes: I eat, you eat, he/ she eats in the present; I eat, you ate in the past. (We form the future using will so it’s not a tense because the main verb stays the same e.g I will go.)

But English also has two aspects: perfect (also called perfective to confuse you) and continuous (also called progressive). The continuous aspect suggests we’re in the middle of an activity (you are reading). The perfect aspect suggests a link between two times, events, or situations. Think of it as juggling times, events or situations and keeping them in the air at the same time.

And juggling is not easy! 

Perfect forms with all on board


Let’s take an example. The present perfect is often used as the opening question at a party, to start a conversation:

Question: Have you been to New York?

By using the present perfect form here (have/ has + past participle) we mean have you been to New York ‘anytime before now’.

We don’t care if you went there last week, last year, or last century!

Get the picture?

However, to answer the question, you’d switch to a past tense to talk about a specific time:

Yes, I went there last year. I had a great time.

So one use of the present perfect – the most common and useful perfect form – is to talk about things ‘anytime before now’.

Some other uses of the present perfect:

1. To talk about things that just happened e.g accidents or unforeseen events:

Oh damn – I’ve dropped a plate!

I’ve lost my keys!

Phil has just called to say he’ll be late!

Here we’re ‘juggling’ the present and something that’s just happened. And we’re focused on the results!

2. To talk about actions or situations that started in the past but continue into the present.

I’ve lived here for ten years.

Here we’re juggling three times: I started living here in the past, I’m living here now, and I’m going to continue living here.

Compare this with the past tense.

I lived here for ten years. (I lived here for ten years before and now I live somewhere else.)

Also, be aware the past tense tends to create a sense of distance between the speaker and the listener, while the perfect tends to bring you closer – because when you use the perfect you’re talking about something that’s important to you now.

A few more things to know about Perfect forms:

You don’t need to know all of them.

When you speak to people in the street, you won’t need past perfect or past perfect continuous as they are very rarely used

Brits and Yanks use them differently.

Brits use perfect forms more often so it would be normal for an American to ask at a party:

Did you see the new Spike Lee film? (past simple)

Whereas a Brit would say:

Have you seen the new Spike Lee film? (present perfect)

It’s a cultural thing. Don’t sweat it.

Okay. So today I’ve taught you about Perfect forms. (See, there’s another one … see how useful it is?)

Above you’ll find a video showing five uses of the present perfect, some of which I’ve mentioned. Here’s a short test to give you some practice. (And here’s some advice on how to teach present perfect for any teachers out there.)

If you’re interested, or the company you work for is interested in learning Perfect forms with All on Board, then call 030/3983 3993 or email to discuss a course.

While you’re here check out our other blog posts and website.

Apart from that, enjoy the spring sunshine and …



5 questions to ask your German teacher

5 questions to ask your German teacher

Pens and notebooks out …

coursebooks open …

turn to page 5 …

and grammar.

☹ ☹ ☹

Sound familiar? Well, it doesn’t have to be like this. In fact it shouldn’t be this. I’ll explain why with a short history lesson.

Are you sitting quietly?

Then I’ll begin.

Language learning in the English-speaking world grew out of the study of ancient Latin and Greek.

This meant grammar, conjugating verbs, and translating texts. An approach called the Grammar-Translation method.

Because who needs to speak Latin right?

That changed with something called the Direct Method around the end of the 19th century. Here learners worked with real-life speech. People thought that immersing the learner in the ‘target language’ would lead to proficiency over time.

Obviously, you can see problems here. A ‘sink or swim’ environment of new speech doesn’t automatically lead to learning a language. It can also lead to frustration – as any language learner will know!

5 questions to ask your German teacherOne method to address this was the Audiolingual or Army method, named the U.S. Army’s need for a ‘scientific’ way to learn languages during the Cold War, as mere exposure to Russian was not enough to create a new generation of spies.


This approach aimed at developing good habits through repetition or ‘drilling’ of the target language, with mistakes corrected by a sergeant major… I mean a teacher! 

Older readers may remember ‘language labs’ where learners would play tapes and learn a language via headphones. These come directly from the Army method.

But does this look like fun to you?

5 questions to ask your German teacher

Here the problem is: How can you learn to communicate with other people in a new language – by listening to tapes inside a plywood box!

We needed the communicative approach to kickstart language learning. An approach that believed languages are best learned by using the target language in (semi-)realistic situations.

Here the emphasis is on developing communication skills through interaction. That’s why today’s classrooms involve working in pairs or groups, and role plays. 

5 questions to ask your German teacher

But hold on. You’re thinking ‘That’s English – what does this have to do with learning German?’

Well for a while scholars have been developing something called Second Language Acquisition theory or SLA for short.

SLA involves theories for learning all languages not just English. One strand of research is the work of US linguist Stephen Krashen, who came up with several hypotheses. Here’s three and why they’re important for you as a German language learner:

1. Natural Order. There’s a natural order to learning languages which you can’t fast-forward. That means, leider, that you’ll still be making mistakes with Der/ Die/ Das for years to come!

Why is this important? Well, it means the order of grammar points you find in coursebooks is, well, almost meaningless.

Second, it means there’s little point in teachers correcting every tiny mistake a learner makes because a) in the ‘natural order’  of learning a language mistakes are inevitable and b) it can demotivate learners. Which brings me to  …

2. The Affective Filter.  One thing that prevents people learning languages is a mental ‘filter’ which comes up when they feel stressed or anxious. This means it’s really important for learners to have a nurturing environment in the classoom – and not be punished or made to feel stupid! 

3. Comprehensible Input. To learn effectively learners need ‘input’, speech and texts in the target language that is one step above what they know now.

They don’t need to know all the words, just most of them; the words they don’t know they can  guess. It follows from this that teachers should ‘grade’ their language and speak to learners at their level.

It also means that private reading and listening may be one of the best ways to learn!

You can read more about these theories here. But here are the five questions we think you should ask your German teacher, or language school, before you take a class.

1. Do you have a language learning theory behind your approach or teaching?

2. Which teaching methods do you use?

3. What is the content for your course?

4. Can I help decide on the course content ?

5. What are some of the learning activities we will do in class?

That’s all from us. I hope this post helps you choose a teacher or school.

If you want to learn German call 030/3983 3993 or email 

While you’re here check out other blog posts and our website.

Apart from that, stay warm and …