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In linguistics, the perfect tense is the past tense used to describe completed (thus "perfect") actions in the past.

The perfect can be contrasted to the imperfect tense, which describes incomplete (thus "imperfect") actions in the past. The imperfect is sometimes called past continuous.

In most languages the perfect is constructed by the use of an auxiliary verb (either to be or to have) in the present and the past participle. The tense thus describes an action which is presently in the past, in contrast to the pluperfect (for an action which in the past was already in the past) and the future perfect (an action which will be in the past).

Other names are sometimes given to the perfect tense. In English the perfect tense is often misleadingly referred to as the present perfect, an allusion to the auxiliary verb component in the present tense. The term "composed past" is also used in languages where this past tense is composed of an auxiliary and a participle.

In some languages, the perfect tense is effectively the same as the preterite tense, or the aorist tense, but these two terms are not actually synonymous with the perfect tense.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



perfect tense, plural perfect tenses

  1. a verb form indicating that an action or state has been completed at the present time, in the past, or will be completed in the future. English has three perfect tenses:

Usage notes

English forms the perfect tenses with a verb phrase made up of the auxiliary verb have plus the past participle of the main verb (e.g., love).

Verb Present perfect Past perfect Future perfect
love has/have loved had loved will/shall have loved
go has/have gone had gone will/shall have gone

In addition to the regular perfect tenses, English can create other variations with various other auxiliary verbs. The verb phrase in the main clause of the first example could be called a conditional perfect tense:

  • "He would have ridden his bicycle if it had not rained."
  • "She was about to have gone home." (Or "She was going to have gone home.")
  • "They had been going for a swim every Thursday."


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