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)

Hello lRaisa,

Yes, the uses of the present perfect continuous can be tricky to understand. It's great to understand it as best you can with grammar explanations and exercises, but I've had many students who only became comfortable with it after reading and speaking over a long period of time. Remember that the way we speak comes first; the explanations are attempts to help you notice how we speak. They are not instructions for the way to speak and there can be some overlap between the ideas.

I'd like to suggest a different example sentence to explain 'a temporary action/around now'. Let's say that normally I take the bus to work, but two weeks ago I started walking to work. I'm still doing it this week and plan to do it for a few more weeks. In this situation, me walking to work is a temporary action -- it started two weeks ago and will finish in a few more weeks. This is a good time to use the present perfect continuous: 'I've been walking to work'. I could also say 'I've been walking to work for two weeks' if I wanted to emphasise the time I began, but this sort of emphasis is only appropriate when it's important for some reason.

This can indeed be similar to 'an activity that is not happening at the moment of speaking'. Obviously, if I say this while I'm walking to work, it is true at the moment of speaking. If I say it to a colleague at work when they tell me in the middle of the day that I seem to have more energy, it's not happening at the moment of speaking.

'I am playing chess for 20 minutes' is not a present perfect continuous form; it's a present continuous form. What exactly it means depends on what it describes. For example, it could be a plan for tomorrow, or it could be happening at the time of speaking. Because it's a present continuous form, it doesn't include the idea that you played chess for 20 minutes yesterday or in the past, though this doesn't mean you didn't do that, either.

I hope this helps you. By the way, I think you might find our Continuous aspect page useful.

Best regards,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Arshiy on Wed, 22/02/2023 - 16:32

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Hello,
Which one out of the two is grammatically correct?

I have been working in the garden all morning and it is already 11.30am.
I had been working in the garden all morning and it is already 11.30am.

Hello Arshiy,

The two forms here are present perfect continuous (have been working) and past perfect continuous (had been working). Perfect forms connect an earlier action or state to a later one: present perfect connects a past situation to a present situation while past perfect connects an earlier past situation to a later past situation.

 

In your sentence you are connecting a past situation (working) to a present situation (it is 11.30). Therefore the present perfect is correct - have been working.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by afsar celik on Thu, 02/02/2023 - 10:15

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Please excuse me but still I can not find any diffrence between that tenses... If both of them interest about "a continuity" what is difference?

Is this diffrence so important?

Those grammar summary does not explain anything for me... I can not use this infromation in any exam...

This looks that only created to be confusing... I could not understand this upper intermediate level... I can not go to forward any more.

Hello afsar celik,

This is certainly difficult grammar to grasp, partly because the differences are subtle, but more than anything, because the situation and speaker's intentions and attitude need to be clear to make sense of the forms. This makes it very difficult to write a clear explanation that is also short. I'm sorry to hear that ours hasn't helped you.

I wouldn't recommend using the concept of 'continuity' to try to understand these forms. I can see how it might be tempting to do that from the word 'continuous', but that's not really what it means in this case. You can read a bit more about this on our Continuous aspect page if you're interested.

I'd suggest you do the exercises and then try to understand any mistakes you make. If you don't understand why an answer is correct or incorrect, please ask us about that specific question here and we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by S_Murat on Sun, 08/01/2023 - 11:06

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Hello! Could you help me, please? This question has been puzzling us:
1) I've done all of my chores, so I can come out tonight.
2) I've been doing my chores, so I'm exhausted.
These examples are clear. But can we say: "I'm exhausted. I've done all of my chores"? Does it make sence? What does it imply? Do they just seem to be 2 separate sentences without any link?
Or:
3) The ground is wet. It has been raining.
But, is it possible to say: "The ground is wet. It has rained"? How has the meaning changed?
Thank you very much, looking forward for your answer.

Hello S_Murat,

Regarding your first question, yes, in context that sentence would be quite clear. Out of context, it might be difficult to understand the connection, though another remark after it could make the connection clear (e.g. 'I'm exhausted. I've done all my chores. I think I'll just stay home and rest.').

The answer to your second question is also yes, though in general the continuous form is more likely here. There are so many different possible reasons that one form or the other could be used that it's really quite difficult to explain. But, for example, if this week it has rained several times (though not today) and my friend suggests we go for a picnic, I might say 'But the ground is wet! It's rained a lot this week.' In this case, when I speak about the wet ground, I'm not referring to it as evidence that it rained, but rather as a problem for having a picnic. If I used the continuous form in this context, it would sound odd and could be confusing.

I hope that helps you make more sense of these forms.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Yes, it really does. Thanks a lot for such a detailed explanation and the examples provided. Now it seems to be getting clearer.

Submitted by anhtuan01995 on Thu, 29/12/2022 - 17:33

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Hi Team,

I'm confused a bit about using the sentences below, could you please help me with it? Are they both grammatically correct?
1. I have been writing this essay for hours and it's still not right.
2. I have written this essay for hours and it's still not right.

Thank you.