Present perfect simple and continuous

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

Average: 4.4 (71 votes)

Hi Melvin,

[1] Yes, right!

[2] Generally that's the right idea. But I wouldn't say that stative verbs in the present perfect cannot be used in those sentences. I don't think we can prescribe a grammatical rule in that way, because it is grammatically possible to use them, and I'm sure we could see or hear examples of people using them. One reason for this is that the context of the conversation might make a time reference obvious, even if it's not mentioned in that sentence. Another reason is that people don't always speak in ideal or perfect sentences.


But, if a particular structure makes the speaker's intended meaning complicated or unclear, despite being grammatically correct, speakers are less likely to use it, and probably choose simpler forms instead. (That's what I would recommend too.) That's why I say that it's 'unlikely' to be used, rather than the absolute statement that 'it cannot be used'.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Sat, 10/07/2021 - 05:42

Hi Jonathan, thank you very much for your explanation. If we use a verb that shows a regular action, a state in the present, or something that is always true (as opposed to single action verbs) such as "have / possess / know / understand / like, etc" in the "already + negative" structure, can we use both the simple present tense and the present perfect tense, or we should use only the simple tense ? E.g. : [1] I hope you don't already subscribe. (......haven't already subscribed.) [2] If you don't already know this word, please check it out (.....haven't already known......) [3] It's strange that you don't already have a mobile phone. (.......haven't already had........) I would be extremely grateful to you for your explanation. Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Yes, those present perfect versions are grammatically possible, but I would say they are relatively unlikely to be used. Stative verbs in the present perfect are often used when we want to focus on the length of time by adding a time expression (e.g. I've known this word for years … / You haven't had a new mobile phone since you left school …), but these would make the example sentences quite complicated (e.g., If you haven't already known this word for years, check it out - correct, but complicated). Speakers would most likely choose a simpler way to say these (i.e., using simple verb tenses).


Note that in example 1, the verb subscribe can mean (1) the action of starting a subscription, i.e. a single action, or (2) the state of being a subscriber (i.e., a stative verb - e.g. I subscribe to 'News' magazine / I've subscribed to 'News' magazine for years). If you say haven’t already subscribed, without any time expression to show that it’s intended as a stative verb, I would understand it as a single action - meaning number (1). I think it would also be common to use action verbs in the other examples too, rather than stative ones in the present perfect, e.g. If you haven’t already learned this word … / It’s strange that you haven’t already bought/got a mobile phone 

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Fri, 09/07/2021 - 05:12

Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for your excellent explanation. You nailed it. If I use the present perfect tense in the "that clause" and add the time adverb "by now" or "now", would it be possible? E.g. :He left 2 hours ago. It is strange that he hasn't already arrived here by now / now --- implying "should have arrived here by now / now". I would highly appreciate your explanation. Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Yes, right! I think by now is particularly common, as it fits exactly with the meaning of already (i.e., before now).


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Tue, 06/07/2021 - 11:06

Hi Jonathan, thanks for your explanation. To probe into this usage further : [1] Could I use "already" in the following "that clause" negative sentence? E.g. : I'm glad that I hadn't already announced the pay rise at the meeting yesterday because the boss just told me he's going to delay it. (It implicitly conveys the idea that I should have announced it yesterday, but I didn't.) [2] Since the "that clause" is part of the main clause containing an adjective (e.g. I was surprised that..., It's unfortunate that...., It's disappointing that...), do we have to use certain adjectives for this structure, or any adjective will do ? I would highly appreciate your help on this matter. More examples with different adjectives would be of much help. Best regards,

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.


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,