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 (119 votes)

Submitted by Pothecat_06 on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 16:10

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How Do I teach this to my friend, she is French-German and is learning this but she is having a difficult time with it, can someone help me.

Hello Pothecat_06,

I think the best way is through examples, particularly examples which provide a clear contrast. For example:

I've read the book. [it's finished]

I've been reading the book. [it's probably not finished]

It can be useful to translate sentences like this into your (her) own language as it helps to show how different concepts are expressed. For example, in English we distinguish between completed past actions (past simple) and actions in the past with a present result (present perfect); many other languages do not. Seeing the differences between languages can be very enlightening.

 

I hope those suggestions help.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 23/04/2022 - 09:03

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Hello Team. Is it correct to use "already" or "just" in present perfect continuous?
- I have already been cooking for 2 hours.
- I had already been waiting for them for 10 minutes before they came.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, it would be a little unnatural to use 'already' in both of the sentences you mention, but in general I'd say it's possible to use 'already' and 'just' with present perfect continuous or past perfect continuous.

In the first sentence, if the purpose of the sentence is to emphasise that you've already put a lot of time into cooking, there's no need to say 'already' -- saying 'I've been cooking for 2 hours' communicates this idea very clearly and emphatically by itself. But I wouldn't say it's wrong to say 'already', just a bit unusual.

In the second, if I were going to use 'already', I'd probably change the end: 'I'd already been waiting for them for 10 minutes when they arrived'. 'when they arrived' talks about a point in time and recreates my experience of that moment in time, which seems more appropriate than 'before they came', which has a more detached, general perspective. But again, I wouldn't say the sentence you mention is incorrect.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 21:43

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Hello team. Could you please tell me which sentence is correct? If both are correct, what is the difference?
1- My brother had written short stories for three years before he published them.
2- My brother had been writing short stories for three years before he published them.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are correct, but I think sentence 2 (past perfect continuous) is more likely to be used than sentence 1 because the continuous structure, which highlights the duration of the action, supports the meaning of "for three years".

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again. So both sentences are correct. Could you please explain the difference in meaning between them?
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Sentence 1 ("had written") shows a completed action. Sentence 2 ("had been writing") also shows a completed action, but one that was continuous (i.e. occurring over a period of time).

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 08/12/2021 - 09:32

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Hi Jonathan,
I'd like to ask for your help.
Webster's online dictionary cites the following sample sentence :

In past winters(=in winters past), we have had much more snow.

Questions:
[1] Would it be grammatically correct to use the present perfect tense with a past time adverbial (i.e. in past winters or in winters past) ?

[2] If so, could I say this sentence ?

In past exhibitions, they have sold more cars.

I would highly appreciate your explanation. Thank you.

Hi melvinthio,

Good question! Let's compare two sentences.

1. In past winters, we HAD much more snow. (past simple)
2. In past winters, we HAVE HAD much more snow. (present perfect)

In sentence 1, the focus is the amount of snow in the past (i.e., the past is the topic of the conversation that this sentence appears in).

In sentence 2 (present perfect), the focus is not the past but the present - i.e., the amount of snow at the present moment, and how it is less than in the past. The past is mentioned just as a contrast to the present.

So, in the context of keeping the conversation focused on the present, not the past (e.g. "we have had much more snow than THIS"), I think most people would find sentence 2 grammatically acceptable. But if the conversation was all about the past, without comparing it to the present, sentence 2 would be unacceptable.

I think it also helps the acceptability that the time phrase is rather general - "in past winters" - and can be understood as similar to other general past time references which are compatible with the present perfect (e.g. "before"). A more specific phrase (e.g. "In the winter of 2015, we have had much more snow") would probably make the present perfect less acceptable, perhaps because it indicates relatively more emphasis on the past than the present.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team