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

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Hi Melvin,

[1] Yes, this sentence is correct and the meaning is clear.

[2] For the meaning 'it should have happened by now' in sentence 2 in your previous message, it seems to me that it's common to use already with other language which also suggests a lack of timely action (i.e., that the speaker is making a criticism). It could be an adjective, as in the examples in my last comment. More examples could be: I was angry/annoyed/shocked/stunned that they hadn't already told me the news. Or, the verb might show criticism, e.g. I regretted/hated/resented (the fact) that they hadn't already told me the news. Or, a particular structure can even suggest criticism (e.g. the rhetorical question in my last comment). I'm afraid I can't really give a complete list here - the point is that all the language underlined above shows that the speaker is dissatisfied, and this - taken together with already - makes the 'it should have happened by now' meaning clearer.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Sun, 04/07/2021 - 12:42

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Hi Jonathan, thanks again for your detailed explanation. In view of the explanation from Cambridge Dictionary combined with your explanation earlier, I can conclude that "already + negative" usage refers to two implications: (1) it gives a stronger expectation that the action has in deed been done. E.g. If you haven't already registered, now's the time to sign up (= I believe you have registered). (2) it implies that something should have happened. E.g. I was surprised that they hadn't already told me the news. (=at the time of speaking, I expected they should have told me the news, but they didn't). Questions: [1] Is my above assumption right? [2] Looking at the example (2) above, I have noticed that "already + negative" can be used in a "that clause" as well. Could I say for instance "he's too choosy that he hasn't already got a job so far", implicitly expressing "he should have got a job by now, but he hasn't so far" ? I would be grateful if you could help me on this matter. Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Yes, I think your conclusions are fair :)

For the example about being choosy, too should change to so, because to show the result of an adjective, the structure is so + adjective + that clause (not too).

After making this change, I think the ‘choosy’ example makes some sense, but I find it a bit hard to follow the time logic. If you say He’s so choosy that … , the ‘that’ clause should show the result of being choosy. Since He’s so choosy is in the present, it’s expected that the result is in the present or the future (e.g. He’s so choosy that he still can’t find a job – present). It’s a bit unexpected for the result to be before the present (he hasn’t already got a job – 'already' refers to ‘before now’, not including ‘now’).

However, we could say:

  • He’s so choosy that he hasn’t found a job yet.
  • He’s so choosy that he still hasn’t found a job.

In negative sentences, yet and still can include ‘now’ and mean something like ‘even now’.

 

Also, for the meaning of 'it should have happened by now' (i.e. criticism), I find that already is often used together with other language that supports the interpretation of that meaning, for example: I was surprised that they hadn't already told me the news. I think 'already' is less likely to be used alone to express that meaning. It would be more natural to say, for example:

  • It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t already got a job.
  • It’s disappointing that he hasn’t already got a job.
  • He's so choosy. Why hasn't he already got a job? (The rhetorical question implies criticism.)

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 17:28

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Hi Kirk, thanks so much for your explanation. As a non native English speaker, I'd like to know exactly how to use this "already in negatives" structure correctly. Unfortunately, I haven't got more exact guidlines due to the difference of opinion between the explanations I've had from British and American English experts. You have assured me that the notion of "a stronger expectation that the action has in fact been done" (further referred to as "a stronger expectation" only) is also true of American English. To be more focused and exact, here are the sentences I raised to some American English teachers: [1] If you haven't already registered, please hurry up. [2] For the students who haven't already submitted their assignments, tomorrow will be the deadline. Their replies were the same, denying the notion of "a stronger expectation" with one them saying like this: In the sentences, 'already' and 'yet' are interchangeable with no difference in meaning, they mean "before this time" or "until now." The sentence "If you haven't already/yet registered" only means "if you haven't registered before now" and nothing else. Questions: [1] If you see the two sentences above, would you say that they still convey the notion of "a stronger expectation from the speaker" ? [2] What would be your comments on the reply by one of the American English experts ? I would appreciate your detailed explanation to clear up my confusion. Best regards,

Submitted by melvinthio on Mon, 28/06/2021 - 10:27

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Hi Jonathan, thanks for your explanation. You said that in the "already + negative" version, we cannot use the present simple, but have to use the perfect or past simple verb forms. I quote this following sentence from my grammar book : I hope you don't already subscribe. My previous example was : Anyone who doesn't already become a member should sign up now. Questions : [1] Please let me have your view if you have a different reason why the present simple doesn't work in the sentence. [2] I once asked some American English teachers about the "already + negative" structure, they all replied to me that there is no difference at all between using "already" or "yet" in the negative statements, they just have the same meaning. However, British English experts, including you, share the same opinion that "already" gives a stronger expectation that the action has in fact been done. Is it true that in American English there is no such a difference when using "already" and "yet" in a negative sentence? Your explanations would be highly appreciated. Best regards,

Hello Melvin,

I'm sorry if you were expecting a reply from Jonathan, but he is unavailable for a few days and so I thought I'd answer for him.

Regarding 2, as someone who grew up in the US, I can assure you that the explanation Jonathan gave you is also true of American English. To be more precise, what the teachers of American English told you could be true of some sentences in specific contexts, but what Jonathan explained is also true of sentences such as the one he gives as an example.

Regarding 1, I expect that Jonathan was thinking of the tenses that most commonly occur with 'already'. As you point out -- and which the Cambridge Dictionary also uses in some examples -- 'already' can also be used with the present simple in some instances.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Melvin,

Just adding to Kirk's great answer - in my previous comment I said that the present simple in that particular sentence wasn't right (not that the present simple cannot be used with 'already' + negative in general). The sentence was:

  • Anyone who doesn't already become a member should sign up now.

We can't use 'become' in the present simple here because 'become a member' means 'change into a member' or 'start being a member' (i.e. it's a single action). But the present simple shows a regular action, a state in the present, or something that is always true, so 'become a member' doesn't make sense with these meanings. Becoming a member is something people normally do a single time, not regularly.

But, we could say these:

  • I hope you don't (already) subscribe. (subscribe = to be a member; to pay money regularly)
  • I hope you aren't (already) a subscriber. (are/be = a state)

So, the reason is about the meaning of 'become a member' in the present simple. It's not related to the use of 'already'. Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 12:00

In reply to by Jonathan R

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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

Submitted by melvinthio on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 04:36

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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,