The perfect construction is composed of a form of have followed by an past participle, e.g. has cooked, have walked, had eaten.
The perfect form of a verb generally calls attention to the consequences of a prior event; for example, he has gone to lunch implies that he is still away, in contrast with he went to lunch. ‘Had gone to lunch’ takes a past time point (i.e. when we arrived) as its reference point and is another way of establishing time relations in a text. The perfect tense is formed by:
- turning the verb into its past participle inflection
- adding a form of the verb have before it.
- She has downloaded some songs. [present perfect; now she has some songs]
- I had eaten lunch when you came. [past perfect; I wasn’t hungry when you came]
It can also be combined with the progressive (e.g. he has been going).
While the National Curriculum refers to the perfect construction as a tense, many grammarians prefer to call the perfect construction a type of aspect. 'Tense' is a word for the way a verb's form shows time (e.g. -ed typically conveys past time). 'Aspect' is a word for the way a verb phrase (including auxiliary verbs) conveys details about temporal structure (e.g. progressive or continuous aspect shows that an event is ongoing in time). Linguists continue to debate whether the perfect construction is a 'tense' or an 'aspect'.