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 (118 votes)
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Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Thu, 08/02/2024 - 10:23

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Should I say last month was the first time that I had travelled to Ha Noi, or last month was the first time that I uave travelled to Ha Noi?

Hi Khangvo2812,

Different tenses are possible. It depends on the context.

  • Past simple - Last month was the first time that I travelled to Ha Noi - Saying "last month" locates the action in the past, so ordinarily the past simple is used.
  • Present perfect - you can say I've travelled to Ha Noi (recently) to show that this is a recent action or that it is relevant to the current topic of conversation. However, it's less likely to say it together with "last month", because the time phrase is normally used with the past simple.
  • Past perfect - this can be used if the action I had travelled to Ha Noi is going to be the background to some other past events that you are going to describe.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by .Mariia on Tue, 09/01/2024 - 12:51

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Hello,
Could you please help me with these sentenses
"I'm glad that our friendship has been lasting since the first grade"
"I'm glad that our friendship has lasted since the first grade."
Wich one is correct? Or both of them are?

Hello .Mariia,

'has been lasting' is awkward and I wouldn't recommend using it. I think this has more to do with the nature of the verb 'last', which is stative use here because it's measuring time.

Although it's true that the friendship is still ongoing and so perhaps one would be tempted to use a continuous form, this statement seems to be more about the friendship as a whole. This is another reason why the simple form is the correct one here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AboodKh9 on Tue, 09/01/2024 - 04:57

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Good morning teachers.
I have a question. How I differentiate between them in blank questions? For example:
They ________ already _________ the results of elections. (Discuss).

Another question what is the ultimate guide for tenses time expressions?

Hello AboodKh9,

The present perfect simple has two words (e.g. 'have discussed') and the continuous has three words ('have been discussing'), so in cases where there are two gaps, in theory only the simple form fits.

In general, knowledge of the situation is needed to be able to choose the correct form. In this case, both the simple and continuous forms could work. If it's a discussion that doesn't seem to have ended yet, the continuous form would be the correct one, for example.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Lauraya on Tue, 05/12/2023 - 14:33

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Hello!
I'm not sure what to make of these sentences: "You've got white dust all over you! What have you ___?". I would go for "done", because we talk about a finished action from the past with consequences in the present, therefore the emphasis is rather on the action (and its result) than on the duration. It might also be something a parent would say to their child (sort of telling them off) - "Look at yourself! You're all covered in dust. What have you done?". As I understand, "What have you been doing?" would be a question more suitable for friends who haven't seen each other for some time and are eager to catch up.

Hello Lauraya,

The idea here is that we are seeing the evidence of recent activity. It's true that such evidence is also a kind of result, but when we observe and comment on a result of something very recent (or still happening), we almost always use present perfect continuous.

It's not completely wrong to use present perfect simple here, but I'd recommend present perfect continuous. For the purposes of this page, the continuous form is the correct one.

I hope this helps you make sense of it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by decembershades on Mon, 13/11/2023 - 00:35

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Hello! I'm trying to teach my student these two forms and for the most part, all is well. But then I came across this exercise from Pearson's Cutting Edge Intermediate (3rd ed):

Murat ____ (study) medicine for four years. He wants to be a doctor. He _____ (pass) all of his exams so far.

The key notes the correct answers as 'has been studying' and 'has passed', and while I do think these are correct, I can't find a way to clearly explain why it's 'has passed' instead of 'has been passing' (the first part is okay).

I'm guessing it might be because the nature of the verb 'pass' in this context highlights the result instead of the activity? But I can't really justify this for sure nor find distinctive examples to prove this point. Also, the 'so far' in the sentence seems to signal to the student that the action is ongoing and will continue, which assured them that the continuous form should be applied.
I 'feel' I agree with the answer key but can't spell out why even to myself haha

Could you try to articulate this for me and provide examples if possible please? Thank you!

Hello decembershades,

Yes, I agree that the nature of the action of passing an exam is why a simple present perfect form is most appropriate there. I think we have to look at 'so far' as a reference to the whole process of becoming a doctor, not just the exams, which are like points in that process.

Perhaps the metaphor of a journey would help, where the exams are kind of like mileposts on a longer journey. The journey continues after each milepost, yet each exam/milepost also represents finishing a part of it.

Do you think that would work? Let me know if that makes sense to your students or not!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team