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 (117 votes)

Submitted by ngoc on Sun, 26/09/2021 - 16:16

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Hi, I'm a little bit confused about the three sentences in the grammar test 1 [1] I've choped onions. (my answer) When I did, I thought that he has done this action and crying is the result of it [2] They've been scoring four goals and it's only half-time (my answer) I chose the present perfect continuous because that action may continue (only half-time and they can still score) [3] Has someone eaten my special bread (my answer) I thought that this is a completed action, and a little bit of bread is t he results Please explain it to me, thank you!

Hello again ngoc,

In 1, you are right in thinking that the crying is the result of the chopping -- it is the result of recent activity. In this kind of situation where the results of an action which is either still happening or which just recently happened, we often use the present perfect continuous form.

In 2, you are right in thinking that the match will continue (and therefore they could score again), but the present moment in the sentence is the half-time period, which is a time when no goals can be scored. Here there is a focus on the result. If we changed the timeframe to a longer one -- for example, the past three months -- we could say 'They've been scoring four goals every match the past few months' and that would be correct.

In 3, I can see how it makes sense that the little piece of bread is evidence of recent activity, but the idea here is that the speaker is focusing on the result -- presumably, the speaker was expecting to have a nice big piece but only enough for one bit is left.

Hope this helps. The present perfect in English can take some practice to master; you've made a great start, but be patient with yourself and keep yours open for other examples in your reading and listening -- that will also help you understand it even more.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lima9795 on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 00:55

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Dear BC, could you please tell me the difference 1) you were absolutely right from the beginning 2) You have been absolutely right from the beginning I heard 1) in loki series.....but i know second one is also possible according to grammar rules So could you please elaborate on this using examples
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 04:54

In reply to by lima9795

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Hi lima9795,

The basic meaning is very similar, but sentence 2 using the present perfect emphasises the action ('you being right') happening over time and continuing until the present moment, while sentence 1 presents it as something that happened in the past. You're right that both are grammatically possible.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Fri, 16/07/2021 - 11:42

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Hi Peter, thanks a lot for your great explanation. I still have to understand more about what you said as "current situation" in your last paragraph. Could you possibly give me some examples? Below please find the sample sentences I presented in my previous postings and would be glad if you would help me point out which ones convey the idea of "current situation". [1] I already know the answer. No need to explain anymore. [2] Do you already know him very well? [3] I already understand you perfectly. I cannot get you wrong. [4] I don't have this sports car yet. [5] I hope you don't already subscribe. [6] If you don't already know this word, please check it out. Your other examples using different stative verbs would be appreciated. Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

By current situation I mean a sentence which describes what is true now without reference how long it has been true. For example:

I live in Paris - current situation

I've lived in Paris for five years - reference to how long/since when

 

With regard to the sentences you list, all of them describe a current situation. That's not to say the present perfect cannot be used if the sentences were changed to make them more general - after all, you would be talking about all your life rather than one specific moment. However, it's possible to think of a context in which even a specific element occurs throughout a person's life:

I don't have this sports car yet. [current situation]

I've had this sports car three times already (and I sold it every time because I didn't like it). [in my life]

 

I hope that helps to claritfy this for you. We have a lot of users on the site who have a lot of questions and we're a small team here, so there is a limit to how much detail we can put into our answers to any particular user, and how much time we can spend on any one particular topic or line of questions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 17:28

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Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for your excellent explanation. Now, I understand that it is more natural and in practice, people are much more likely to use the simple present tense instead of the present perfect tense without time expressions with the stative verbs such as "know, understand, have, etc" as mentioned in the 4 sample sentences I cited in my previous posting. I've just read from the online English discussion forum about the usage of "I have already known". They explain that : [1] For "knowing a person", we can say "I have already known", e.g. I have already known many people in this area. [2] But for "knowing a fact or how to do something", we cannot say it. Question: What would be your opinion about the statement in [1] ? Is it right that we can use the present perfect tense without a time expression only when it refers to "knowing a person" ? I would be grateful for your help. Best regards,

Hello melvinthio,

It's perfectly acceptable to use the present perfect with stative verbs of this type when referring to experience in our lives. For example, your sentence describes the speaker's life experience:

I've known many people in this area.

Here are some similar examples with other stative verbs. In each example you can omit the time reference:

I've believed in several gods (during my life).

I've loved three people (in my life).

I've owned four houses (over the years).

I've had a house with a garden. It was too much work!

As you can see, the key point in whether you are talking about life experiences or not, not whether or not you are talking about people.

 

When you talk about a current situation then the present simple is much more likely whether you are talking about people or objects, unless you include a time reference such as for... or since...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Mon, 12/07/2021 - 16:31

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Hi Jonathan, thanks a lot for your great explanation. I'd assume that not all stative verbs, (such as "have / know / understand, etc") would have two meanings : as an action verb as well as a stative verb (like the word "subscribe" you explained). [1] Is my assumption right ? If my assumption is right, I would make a conclusion that pure stative verbs, which describe a state rather than an action, can only be used with the simple present tense and cannot be used with the present perfect tense without any time adverbs like "for", "since", etc. to show that they are functioning as stative verbs. E.g. : [A] I already know the answer. No need to explain anymore. [B] Do you already know him very well? [C] I already understand you perfectly. I cannot get you wrong. [D] I don't have this sports car yet. [2] Is my conclusion right that the above sentences cannot be used with the present perfect tense without any time expressions ? I would highly appreciate your explanation on this matter. Best regards,

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.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team