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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

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

Thanks so much Jonathan for your clear-cut explanation. Now, I fully get what you meant.
I still don't have a firm idea on the exact usage of the "already in negatives" structure due to the difference of opinion between British and American English experts I have reached out as I already posted in the yesterday's message.
I do hope you can help me out on this issue with your detailed explanation to the message I posted yesterday.
Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

The Cambridge Dictionary (see the ‘Negatives’ section) agrees that already in negative sentences refers to something that should have happened, while yet is for something that simply has not happened. You may also find interesting discussions of this question elsewhere online (e.g. this Stack Exchange discussion).

About the different explanations that you’ve heard from different teachers, I would say two things:

  • We should note that the meanings of already and yet overlap considerably. Both refer to expectations that an action has been done. That makes distinguishing one from the other not always easy to do.
  • It’s also hard to talk about example sentences isolated from context, i.e., the people, the situation and the rest of the conversation. This context often provides a reason for choosing one word or another – e.g., someone might use already instead of yet as a reference to something that was said earlier, even if they don't particularly need the 'should have happened' meaning:

If you’ve already registered, thanks a lot! If you haven’t already registered, …

But with an example sentence abstracted from context, two people could look at it and imagine totally different contexts of use, leading them to give to different explanations.

 

It is possible that there are differences between British and American English usage here. But in general, we should also consider other explanations. For example, perhaps those teachers you mentioned had particular examples or a particular lesson or a particular context in mind. Or perhaps their intention was to give an easier-to-understand or more practical explanation. It’s hard for us to comment on other teachers’ comments – it might be better to follow up with them.

I hope this helps in some way, but I'm afraid it may not be possible for us to ‘clear up your confusion’ as you put it – as you can see, even language teachers have differences of opinion. But perhaps this is only natural with something as complex and diverse as language usage.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks ever so much for your clear-cut explanation. Way to go !
Now, I'd like to ask for your help again to explain the usage of the word "already" in negative sentences, such as:
[1] Haven't you already contacted him?
[2] Anyone who doesn't already become a member should sign up now.
[3] If you didn't already tell them yesterday, you can inform them now.

Questions:
[1] What's the difference of meaning felt by the speaker if they use "yet" in those sentences?
[2] Are the verb tenses correct in those sentences above? I mean we don't have to use present or past perfect tenses for this "already + negative sentence" formula, do we?

Your clear explanation on this issue would be highly appreciated.

Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Although compared to yet gives a stronger sense that the speaker expects the action has in fact been done. For example:

  • Haven't you already contacted him? (I think you probably have done it.)
  • Haven't you contacted him yet? (I don't know whether you have done it or not.)

So, the already version may be used if a speaker expects that you have in fact contacted him, but just wants to check or confirm it. The yet question may be used when the speaker is pointing out something he/she thinks you might have forgotten to do or haven't done in time.

About your second question, yes - in modern usage, already is used with the past simple (as in your sentence 3), even though traditionally it is taught that it should be used with perfect verb forms. But the verb form in sentence 2 isn't right - (doesn't) become in the present simple doesn't work. It should be in the present perfect (or past simple).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, thanks for your clear explanation. I could probably make a conclusion that the word "ever" (=at any time) can be used in affirmative relative clauses when the sentence begins with one of the three key words : "any / all / every".

Is my assumption right ?

I look forward to your further comments on my view.

Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Yes, as far as I know. I would also add that:

  • there may be other words that co-occur with ever, apart from those three you mentioned.
  • they do not always occur at the start of a sentence (e.g. I can remember every teacher I've ever had.)
  • your conclusion is true of other structures too, not just relative clauses (e.g. If any customer ever complains, let the manager know.)

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Is the following sentence correct? If not, why.
- I have met John since September.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

No, it's incorrect because met is a momentary action, but since shows the action had a duration until the present. So, here are two corrections we can make:

  • I have known John since September.
  • I met John in September.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, thanks for your explanation about the usage of the word "ever" (= at any time).
I gather that if we want to use it in affirmative sentences, we should use it in relative clauses.
I'm on the way of developing a correct understanding about this usage and would highly appreciate if you could help me correct and comment on the following sentences:

[1] Any house that has ever been built in this area is luxurious. (= built at any time)

[2] All the cars that ever pass this street have to be checked for safety. (= pass at any time)

[3] Every lesson I've ever made is offered for free. (made at any time).

[4] This drug is good for people who have ever suffered from cancer. (suffered at any time)

Best regards,
Melvin

Hi Melvin,

The sentences are grammatically fine. In all four sentences, the ‘at any time’ meaning is already conveyed by other words (any house / all the cars / every lesson / people who have suffered), so ‘ever’ can be deleted without changing the basic meaning of the sentences, and I think many speakers would ordinarily leave ‘ever’ out from those sentences – unless they were in situations where they wanted to make that particular emphasis.

But, sentence 3 is more common than the others, because it contains a commonly used phrase: every ___ I’ve ever ___ (e.g. everything I’ve ever done / every man I’ve ever known / every film I’ve ever seen).

Also, it’s true that ever is often used in relative clauses, but it’s not limited to that. For example:

  • It was the best birthday ever.
  • He was the first person ever to climb that mountain.
  • All I ever wanted was a stable job.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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