Present perfect simple and continuous

Do you know the difference between We've painted the room and We've been painting the room? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Language level

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
No votes yet

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think both are possible and there's really little difference in meaning as both are asking about an open time period.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 28/05/2021 - 17:54

Permalink
Hello. What is the difference in meaning please? - I have watched TV all night. Now I’m going to bed. - I have been watching TV all night. Now I’m going to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The difference here is one of emphasis. The simple form emphasises the result of a particular action - my eyes are tired, I'm bored with TV etc. The continuous form emphasises the effort or duration of an activity - this is too much TV, the evening was a waste of time etc. Both are possible; the choice is up to the speaker and what they want to communicate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maahir on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 11:40

Permalink
Hi The LearnEnglish Team, I am somehow confused about the answers of these two questions. 1- Have you always ___ garlic? A- hated B- been hating 2- Has someone ___ my special bread? There's only a little bit left. A- eaten B- been eating. I have chosen A,A and it says the correct answers are B,B instead. May you kindly explain it a little more? Thanks

Hello Maahir,

'hate' is a stative verb and is generally not used in continuous forms. It's an ongoing state.

For 2, we can see that only a little bit of bread is left. We are seeing the evidence of recent activity and so the continuous form is best here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 04:36

Permalink
Hi, You mentioned that "We often use for, since and how long with the present perfect continuous to talk about ongoing single or repeated actions." Does the adjective "ongoing" also apply to "repeated actions", as in do you mean to say ongoing single actions and ongoing repeated actions? Also if it is a repeated action (which means it must have started, then stopped , then started and stopped again and so on), how is it that the the repeated action can be considered to be ongoing, a term which implies the action has been continuing and never stopped once before?
Profile picture for user Jonathan R

Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 05:46

In reply to by Timothy555

Permalink

Hi Timothy555,

Yes, that's right. It means ongoing single actions or ongoing repeated actions.

For repeated actions, 'ongoing' refers to the repetition of the action - that is, the repetition is ongoing, and has not ceased yet (as opposed to a repeated action that is no longer ongoing, e.g., I used to play tennis every Sunday for years, but I don't anymore).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tami on Tue, 06/04/2021 - 13:41

Permalink
Hello! I have a question.... If we talk about are selfs and we are angry then we are going to use Present Perfect Simple or Continuous? I have an example...Who has (use) my mobile?

Hello tami,

If you see evidence of someone recently using your mobile, then you should use the present perfect continuous: 'Who has been using my mobile?'

I'm not sure if you'd be familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but this reminds me of the father bear, who says 'Someone has been eating my porridge' when he sees that part of his food has been eaten.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team