How to Teach Perfect Verb Tenses

Written by sophie southern
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Perfect verb tenses in English include the present perfect, present perfect continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future perfect and future perfect continuous; continuous verb forms are also referred to as "progressive." When teaching English as a second or foreign language, it is particularly important to spend extra time on perfect tenses. This is primarily because perfect tenses, and the sense of time that they convey, do not exist in many foreign languages. If you want to effectively teach perfect verb tenses to ESL students, correct mistakes immediately and use traditional teaching materials.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Teach perfect verb tenses in a progressive order. Begin with the present perfect and make sure students really understand before moving on to the present perfect continuous. Take breaks in between each perfect tense to learn an easier grammar point, such as articles or the difference between "for" and "since." Working progressively while taking breaks in between will allow your students to evolve without having to focus on difficult material for too long.

  2. 2

    Explain how perfect verb tenses relate to time. This is probably the most complicated aspect of perfect tenses for ESL and EFL students. For example, the present perfect tense refers to something that began in the past and either finished recently or relates to the present in some way. This idea doesn't even exist in many languages; in French, it is impossible to say, "I have known her for 10 years" because the language only permits you to say, "I know her for 10 years" or "I knew her for 10 years." Making sure your students grasp the notion of time that is associated with present tenses will help them know which tense to use in what situation.

  3. 3

    Create a story for a fictional character and always reference the same story to reinforce perfect tenses. "Miss Black is 40 years old and has lived in London for 10 years," is an example of the present and present perfect tenses. Each time you teach a new perfect tense, always refer to Miss Black. For example: "Miss Black moved to New York. She will have been there for one year next week," uses the past and future perfect. Choosing a character as an anchor point allows students to visualise perfect tenses. and their relationships to time, in a more concrete manner.

  4. 4

    Use ESL and EFL grammar books instead of creating your own exercises. The ESL and EFL classroom environments are far more relaxed than a traditional English classroom, but the technical difficulty of perfect tenses requires some use of instructor-constructed grammar exercises. Use grammar exercises regularly to test your students' progress and reinforce proper perfect tense usage.

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