# How to use present perfect precisely

My exercise has a question like this:

My father learned to drive when he was 16.

Of course, I know this is easy, just a little transformation. But then I thought: "I can not use 'my father has learned to drive since he was 16'", right? I mean, how can a person learns how to drive for, let's said, 20 years. So I wrote on the paper, "My father has driven since he was 16" and it made a perfect sense. But then, I asked my teacher and she said the first one would be more correct. Yeah, I know I don't have to think about that much, but it really irritating. I'd be grateful if someone answers this question. And by the way, she also said "it is 5 years since I last saw her" but when I watch movies, they always say "it has been 5 years since I last saw her". So which one is correct?

• I believe that your last example deserves its own question. Commented May 7, 2015 at 11:34
• Maybe your teacher wanted this sentence: My father has learned to drive. (no time expression) Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:46

## 3 Answers

If learning to drive is a short-term event that spans a few weeks or months, there's nothing wrong with saying:

My father learned to drive when he was 16.

If you want to emphasize, however, that learning to drive is more than a one-time event, that it's a never-ending accumulation of experiences and ongoing lessons on the road, then you would say:

My father has been learning to drive since he was 16.

If you simply want to emphasize how long he's been driving, then use the simpler:

My father has been driving since he was 16.

All three sentences reveal that your father first got behind a steering wheel at the age of 16, but they focus on three different aspects of driving: learning the fundamentals of driving, becoming an expert at driving, and just plain driving.

Now, about these two:

It is 5 years since I last saw her.
It has been 5 years since I last saw her.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that one of these must be correct, and therefore the other must be wrong. I see that so much on the pages of ELL!

Sometimes one alternative is correct while another is wrong, but oftentimes both answers are correct, and it's just a matter of context: Are you speaking, or writing? Are you in New York, or in Sydney? Is the environment formal, or informal? I say lotsa things among friends that I probably wouldn't write in a research paper, and I've inserted many phraseologies into research papers that I would be highly unlikely to utter around friends.

I don't find any grammatical gaffe in either of the "5 years" sentences you wrote here (other than, in writing, we would usually write the word five instead of the numeral 5; we do that for single-digit numbers). However, your teacher's wording sounds too formal and stilted for casual conversation – at least in my opinion and according to where I live – so I'd probably default to your wording about 90% of the time.

As for getting some of your English lessons by watching movies, that's a two-edged sword. I'd be careful about that. On one hand, movies can give you a good feel for how people speak English in everyday life. On the other hand, not everything you read in a movie script is worth emulating. Movie directors want actors to say things in accordance with the characters in their films. So, if you watch too many mafia movies, you might end up speaking like a mobster. I don't think my wife would appreciate me saying, "Yo, Annabelle" – no matter how much she may have liked the original Rocky movie.

Your question asked about using the present perfect, precisely. An example would be, "My father has driven for thirty years." (Or however old he is minus 16!)

The sentence It has been five years since I last saw her states that a time span of five years has elapsed since I last saw her. So this time span elapsed around when the person was saying this. It has nothing to do with something in past.

In the same way, you can also say: I have read this book five times since (when) she gave it to me. You have just now read the book for the fifth time, so it makes sense to use 'have' here.

As for My father learned to drive when he was 16: He didn't learn it recently, and he learned 'how to drive' back in past, so that clause should be in past.

Further,

My father learned to drive when he was 16.

This sentence has two clauses: My father learned to drive and He was 16. Both clauses are independent clauses, and both cannot be in the Past Indefinite (Past Simple). One must be in the Past Perfect.

My father had learned to drive when he was 16.

• My father learned to drive when he was 16 is a perfectly acceptable, good, correct and natural sentence.
– user6951
Commented May 7, 2015 at 14:53
• Yes, I agree! That was my mistake. Commented May 7, 2015 at 19:21