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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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Hello Yigitcan,

Both the simple and continuous forms are possible here. It really depends on the speaker. If you want to focus on the ongoing situation (no rain) then the continuous is more likely. If you want to focus on the result (a drought) then the simple is more likely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maya.micheal on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 00:03

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Hello team, Could you please tell me wetherwe use the present perfect continuous in these examples or present perfect simple? 1-the children are tired now.they (have been playing/have played) in the garden 2-you look tired.Have you(worked/been working) hard? 3-Are you ok? You look as if you have(cried/been crying) Do we here focus on the result or or the activity? I think the present perfect continuous is more appropirate
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 02:27

In reply to by Maya.micheal

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Hi Maya.micheal,

You're right! Although all three examples start with the result of the action, the second sentence in each example focuses on the activity. The speaker is interested in what activity has caused the result that he/she can see. So, the present perfect continuous is the best choice here.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 08:10

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Hello team, I would like to ask some questions. e.g, Has someone been eating my special bread? There's only a little bit left. Why "been eating" is used? From the sentences, the special bread only a little bit left, which is the result. e.g, Have you always hated garlic? Why didn't use "been hating" to indicate the person always hates garlic? Thanks a lot.

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 20:44

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Dear Team, My teacher taught me a few sentences about present perfect and present.p.continuous but I'm still confused about those sentences. "Jonas is a writer. He writes mystery novels. He has written/has been writing (my teacher told me both present perfect and p.p.contin can be used.) since he was 18 years old. He has written 6 novels." Could you tell me why both tenses can be used? As far as I know, this is doing till now So we must definitely use Present Perfect Contin rather than Present Perfect. Thank you!!!
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 16:09

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hello DaniWeebKage,

I'd encourage you to ask your teacher about that. There is probably some context (that I can't think of right now) in which present perfect simple would make sense there, but in general I think the continuous form is best.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Krik, Yes, I asked her about that. She told me that Present Perfect Can be used in "Changes over time'' Jonas does not write anything until he is 18 years old. He do write after 18. Does It make sense?

Hello DaniWeebKage,

It is possible to use the present simple tense to tell a story about the past -- if you follow the link and look at the 'Advanced' section on the page, you'll see some examples of this. I'm not sure if that's what you meant with your sentences about Jonas.

This use of the present simple is a little unusual -- people would normally use the past simple in these sentences (assuming that Jonas is now older): 'Jonas didn't write until he was 18'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khaled hasan on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 20:58

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Hello Sir, My teacher gave us a sentence as an example for the present perfect and it was the following (he is at rest now, he has driven for 2 hours) he said we used present perfect because the action is finished, but shouldn't it be present perfect continuous, since it focus on the continuity of the action(he got tired because of the action of driving itself, and not because he finished it)??
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 09:23

In reply to by Khaled hasan

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Hello Khaled hasan,

Generally, the present perfect continuous is used in a context like this, but the present perfect simple is possible too. It really depends on what the speaker wants to emphasise and upon the broader context in which the sentence is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Submitted by Khaled hasan on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 09:52

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Hello Sir I have a problem in determining what tense should I use in these cases: 1- he has____(stay) with friends for too long. He needs to find a house of his own. 2-I think someone has____(use) my my phone. The battery is nearly dead.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 05:19

In reply to by Khaled hasan

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Hi Khaled hasan,

Yes, your sentences are tricky! 

In sentence 1, I'd say he's been staying (present perfect continuous). The continuous tense emphasises the duration of the activity (for too long). 

In sentence 2, I'd say has been using (present perfect continuous). Again, this emphasises that the activity went on a long time, and somebody didn't just use the phone for a moment. That fits the situation, since the battery is nearly dead. 

But, I would also say that in real life usage, different answers are acceptable. For example, in sentence 1 we could say he's stayed (present perfect simple) if we want to give a sense that the situation (staying with friends) has reached a point where it must end and cannot continue. We might emphasise different things in different contexts of speaking.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Malika_Meg on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 13:53

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Hello, Could you please clarify one thing? Test 1, q. 3, why the correct answer is 'been eating'? The fact that there is only a little bit left looks like some kind of result, isn't it? Thank you, Malika
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 15:04

In reply to by Malika_Meg

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Hi Malika_Meg,

Good question! I'll try to explain.

 

If we say Has someone eaten my bread?, it suggests that the person has eaten all the bread (present perfect simple describing a completed action).

 

Instead, Has someone been eating my bread? is the better option. We can see the little bit of bread left as evidence of the recent activity.

 

Does that make sense?

 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Jonathan_R, Of course, it does! Thank you very much for your clear and concise explanation) All the best, Malika_Meg
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 00:14

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Hello. Could you please help me? What's wrong with this sentence? - The Suez Canal has been reopened for international navigation since 1976. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

I'll try to explain. The verb reopen is an action that takes place at a single point in time. For example, we can say The Canal reopened in 1976 or The shop reopened last week. ('1976' and 'last week' are points in time.)

 

But we can't say reopened since 1976, because since indicates a period of time. Since means 'from then until now' (e.g. since 1976 means 'from 1976 until now'). So, it doesn't fit with reopened, which is an action at a single point in time.

 

Here's another way to think about it. The verb reopen means to 'become open' or 'start to be open'. If we substitute reopened for started to be open, we get: started to be open since 1976. But this doesn't make sense, because since 1976 is a period of time, but started is only a single moment. It doesn't have a duration.

 

So, we need to make one of these corrections.

  • The Suez Canal has been open since 1976. (be open can show a period of time)
  • The Suez Canal opened in 1976. (in is a preposition showing a point in time, not a period of time. The tense needs to change to the past simple.)

 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Karan Narang on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 04:20

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Could you explain me these sentence ? I am still waiting for him, I have been still waiting for some reason. I have been working with some people. I have doubt these because of perhaps we can use for exact time all of them.

Hello Karan Narang,

I'm afraid we can't do this. There are simply too many possible meanings here depending on the situations in which these were uttered. If you'd like to explain what you understand each sentence means and ask us to confirm your understanding, we can try to do that, but what you are asking here would take more time than we have for responding to comments.

Thanks in advance for your understanding.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Chubbaka on Fri, 10/07/2020 - 06:02

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Is that sentense correct? "Paul has come to school late every morning this week." Isn't it a repeated action? Why we didn't use Present Perfect Continious, here?

Hello Chubbaka,

You could use the present perfect continuous here, but the simple form is better, in my view.

The difference is really one of emphasis. The simple form presents a summary of the activity, while the continuous form emphasises its repeated nature. If the speaker wants to summarise the week to show how worrying the situation is, then the simple is probably best. If the speaker wants to draw attention to the repeated nature of the activity then the continuous is more appropriate.

 

In your example, the phrase this week suggests that the speaker is summarising the week, so the simple is more likely in my view. Without this phrase, the focus is only on the activity itself, so the continuous would be better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In this case, I think Present Perfect simple is the best choice since we aren't sure if he will do the same ( come late to school) in the rest of the days.

Submitted by asiamotylek92 on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 17:49

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Which one is correct? And why? She is an experienced driver. She has driven / has been driving cars for 20 years.

Hello asiamotylek92,

The continuous form (has been driving) is the best option here. When we are describing the present result (being an experienced driver) of a repeated activity (driving) over a period of time, then the continuous is generally preferred.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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