Present perfect simple and continuous

Do you know the difference between We've painted the room and We've been painting the room?

Look at these examples to see how the present perfect simple and continuous are used.

We've painted the bathroom. 
She's been training for a half-marathon.
I've had three coffees already today!
They've been waiting for hours.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Present perfect simple and present perfect continuous: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We use both the present perfect simple (have or has + past participle) and the present perfect continuous (have or has + been + -ing form) to talk about past actions or states which are still connected to the present.

Focusing on result or activity

The present perfect simple usually focuses on the result of the activity in some way, and the present perfect continuous usually focuses on the activity itself in some way. 

Present perfect simple Present perfect continuous
Focuses on the result Focuses on the activity
You've cleaned the bathroom! It looks lovely! I've been gardening. It's so nice out there.
Says 'how many' Says 'how long'
She's read ten books this summer. She's been reading that book all day.
Describes a completed action Describes an activity which may continue
I've written you an email.  I've been writing emails.
  When we can see evidence of recent activity
  The grass looks wet. Has it been raining?
I know, I'm really red. I've been running!

Ongoing states and actions

We often use for, since and how long with the present perfect simple to talk about ongoing states.

How long have you known each other?
We've known each other since we were at school. 

We often use for, since and how long with the present perfect continuous to talk about ongoing single or repeated actions.

How long have they been playing tennis?
They've been playing tennis for an hour.
They've been playing tennis every Sunday for years.

Sometimes the present perfect continuous can emphasise that a situation is temporary.

I usually go to the gym on the High Street, but it's closed for repairs at the moment so I've been going to the one in the shopping centre. 

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Present perfect simple and present perfect continuous: 2

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Submitted by Alyaa.Adel98 on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 20:58

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Sometimes the present perfect continuous can emphasise that a situation is temporary. I usually go to the gym on the High Street, but it's closed for repairs at the moment so I've been going to the one in the shopping centre. I don't undersatand this point , is it mean that the first actions is 'go to closed gym then anther gym in shopping centre ?!

Hello Alyaa.Adel98,

Normally, the speaker goes to the High Street gym, but since it is closed they need to go elsewhere. Going to the gym in the shopping centre is a temporary situation; once the High Street gym is open again the speaker will stop going to the shopping centre gym and go back to their old routine.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Alyaa.Adel98 on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 20:35

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In this sentence ( my hands are very dirty. I've been repairing the car ).. can i also use present perfect simple?.... i'm still confused about useing present perfect simple or continuous Is it used as I want to focuse in result or the activity?!

Hello Alyaa.Adel98,

The simple form is possible here grammatically but it is not really consistent with the focus of the sentence.

You would use the simple form if the repair is complete and you are interested in showing the result of your work. However, clearly in the sentence as it is written you are more concerned with your hands being dirty, so the continuous form is better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 19:09

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Hello. What does the following sentence mean? Should we use another form of the verb? - She has learned to cook since the age of seven. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

I'm afraid that sentence is not correct. What I would recommend is 'She started to cook at age seven' or 'She's been cooking since she was seven'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by YSATO201602 on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 06:17

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Hello teachers, I would like to check the difference of nuances between present(or past) perfect simple and continuous. In the example sentences below, it would be more natural to use continuous form: i.e. the sentence 1b) and 2b) would sounds more feasible. 1a) I have waited for you since morning. 1b) I have been waiting for you since morning 2a) I had waited for thirty minutes when the train came. 2b) I had been waiting for thirty minutes when the rain came. How would native speakers feel when they fear 1a) and 2a)? Do these sentences hold almost the same meaning and are they interchangeable? Or do they sound a bit strange? Thank you in advance.

Hello YSATO201602,

All of your examples are grammatically correct but, as you say, the second one in each pair is the more natural of the two as the context makes it clear that it is the duration of the waiting that is important and should be emphasised. However, the simple forms are possible and do not sound wrong. Beyond that, it's really a question of the broader context and the author's style and intention.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vishinde on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 10:52

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I am confused about this example of present perfect tense that every grammar book gives - "I have lived in London for 10 years". The explanation offered is that I came to London 10 years ago and I am still living here.... In my view, it should be present perfect continuous if I am still living here. Isn't it?

Hello Vishinde,

Both present perfect simple and continuous are possible, and neither tells us that the person will continue to live in London - they may, or they may move elsewhere.

 

The difference between the two forms is not one of fact but of emphasis and focus.

 

When we use the present perfect simple we are thinking about a result or an achievement; we take the 10 years as a whole and say 'look at what I've done!'

When we use the present perfect continuous we are thinking about the process or the activity. We are considering how much work we did or what we needed to do in order to reach the current point.

 

In some contexts, such as yours, the difference is minimal and the two forms are interchangeable. In other contexts there is a bigger difference. For example:

I've painted the room (and isn't it beautiful!)

I've been painting the room (and now I'm exhausted)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by OlaIELTS on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 03:52

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It's really helpful.

Submitted by HanaNguyn on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 11:14

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Hi, Could you explain the first question on test 2 for me? I thought the answer must be "have been hating" because it focuses on the activity - "hating". Thank you so much
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 16:29

In reply to by HanaNguyn

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Hello HanaNguyn

That's good thinking, but we don't generally use stative verbs in continuous tenses. If you follow the link and look for the section called 'Stative verbs', you'll see an explanation of this there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by KarenFaraco on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 21:01

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Hello! I'd appreciate if you could help me with this one. If I'm telling a friend about my summer, which is better? A) I've been playing a lot of tennis this summer B) I played a lot of tennis this summer I'd choose A, but I've seen people choosing B as well. If "this summer" is still related to the present, shouldn't it be at least "I've played a lot of..." instead of simple past? Thanks in advance! :)
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 07/05/2020 - 06:55

In reply to by KarenFaraco

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Hello KarenFaraco

If it's still the summer when you say this and if you are still playing tennis, then A would be correct. B indicates either that the summer is over or that you have finished playing tennis (although it could possibly still be the summer).

Let us know if you have any other questions.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Grammar on Fri, 24/04/2020 - 08:14

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Hello there! I have a question. I am never late for school. Is school object of am in the above sentence ? . Would u make this clear for me? Thanks

Hello Grammar

No, 'school' is the object of the preposition 'for'. The subject is 'I' and 'late for school' is an adjectival phrase -- here it is the complement of the verb 'am'. The verb 'am' is a linking verb in this case; it doesn't really have an object but rather gives more information about the subject.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by maazbin on Thu, 23/04/2020 - 20:52

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Hi, I have a little confusion in continuous and present perfect continuous. Like an example here "I have been in isolation since April 21". Could i use 'I am' here?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 24/04/2020 - 07:29

In reply to by maazbin

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Hi maazbin,

I'm afraid I'm rather confused about what you mean. The example you give is not continuous in any way. It is a simple present perfect with verb be.

I think if you want us to comment on alternatives it's better to write both sentences out in full. Otherwise we risk giving a misleading answer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the guidance. i m new here. 1)The sentence is "I have been in isolation since April 21" could i write "I am in isolation since April 21"? 2) One of my teacher said that there is no difference between present continuous and present perfect continuous but only an emphasis in perfect cntnuous. I am a bit confused here.

Hello again maazbin,

If you use since then the present perfect is necessary here (have been) because it describes a situation starting in the past and continuing up to the present. You could use the present simple (am) without since. This would describe the current situation without reference to when it started.

I have been in isolation since April 21.

I am in isolation.

 

Neither of these sentences are continuous. In the first sentence the verb is present perfect simple. In the second it is present simple.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much. One more thing, is emphasis the only difference between present continuous and present perfect continuous? Like "I am waiting for you." and "I have been waiting for you." Do both sentences give the same meaning ?

Hello maazbin

'I am waiting for you' only refers to now; 'I have been waiting for you' refers to the past and the present. Please note that both the present continuous and the present perfect continuous can be used for various reasons -- if you follow the links, you'll see an explanation of the main ones.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by avger on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 11:00

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Good morning! Firstly, can we say they play tennis every Sunday for years instead of they've been playing tennis every Sunday for years? Secondly, what is the conceptual difference between the present continuous and the present perfect continuous in sentences as the following one: I usually go to the gym on the High Street, but it's closed for repairs at the moment so I've been going to the one in the shopping centre? I mean if I replace the “I have been going” with “I am going”.

Hello avger

Regarding your first question, no, it's not correct to use the present simple there. This is because the action clearly began in the past and is still going on these days. In many of the languages I've studied (e.g. Spanish), a verb form like the present simple works here, but in English it doesn't. Even if you were talking about something as regular and old as the sun rising, you'd need to use a present perfect continuous form here (e.g. 'The sun has been rising every day for billions of years').

As for your second question, I can't think of any real difference in meaning or in the conceptualisation of the situation. The present perfect form of course puts a little more emphasis on the fact that it began in the past, but that is also clear with the present form. The most important feature of both is the continuous aspect, which shows that this situation is a departure from the normal.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hj1992 on Thu, 16/04/2020 - 14:03

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Hi Could you please answer the following question? Does this sentence "I know, I'm really red. I've been running!" means that the speaker is still running? If not, can being red be the result of running and and we should use present perfect form?
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 16/04/2020 - 14:22

In reply to by hj1992

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Hello hj1992

In this case, it means that the speaker stopped running very recently, recent enough that the redness in their face is the result of their running. As the chart above states, the redness is evidence of recent activity (the running).

If the speaker were still running at the time they said this, then 'I'm running' would be the verb form to use to show this.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by 83roman on Thu, 09/04/2020 - 17:53

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Can we change the place of " already" in this sentence ? I've had three coffees already today!

Hello 83roman,

Adverbs are often very flexible in terms of their position and you can move already in this sentence. All of these are perfectly fine:

I've had three coffees already today!

I've already had three coffees today!

I've had three coffees today already!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuelver on Tue, 24/03/2020 - 18:21

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these questions are not difficult but this kind of exercises can help us with some doubts in our day to day

Submitted by adawi on Thu, 05/03/2020 - 05:58

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I've got the first question wrong. I thought it should be I've been always hating garlic, because I focus on the action \ feeling not the result.

Submitted by ProEnglishLess… on Tue, 25/02/2020 - 12:07

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I gottes 1/8 ich think that i docent very guud english leson

Submitted by Habijak on Thu, 13/02/2020 - 08:06

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Hello there! I have a question. Can I use present perfect simple for an action that started in the past and still continues? I mean can I say "I've learnt English for 2 months" instead of "I've been learning English for 2 months" They seem the same and I'm confused. Would u make this clear for me? Thanks

Hello Habijak,

It is not grammatically incorrect to use the simple form, but the continuous is much more likely since learning is inherently an ongoing process.

The simple form would suggest that two months was the goal, not the actual learning. For example, if a friend made a bet with you in which he or she said that you would quit before the end of two months, then you might say triumphantly at the end something like this: 'You said I couldn't do it, but I've leant English for two months now.'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team