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 (120 votes)

Submitted by ShetuYogme on Mon, 27/05/2024 - 08:47

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The LearnEnglish team,

In the 3rd example of the Grammar Test 1, why is the sentence correct with "been eating" not with "eaten"?

 Has someone ___ my special bread? There's only a little bit left.

And now, I want to know the dinferences between past continous and present perfect continous.

The grass looks wet. Has it been raining?
I know, I'm really red. I've been running!

Can't we say?:

The grass looks wet. Was it raining?
I know, I'm really red. I was running!

Waiting for your response. Thank you.

 

Hello ShetuYogme,

In the 3rd example of the Grammar Test 1, why is the sentence correct with "been eating" not with "eaten"?

Has someone ___ my special bread? There's only a little bit left.

'Eaten' here would suggest the other person finished their meal, but we can see that something was left. Therefore the continuous form (has been eating) is better as it can describe an action in progress which was not completed.

 

And now, I want to know the dinferences between past continous and present perfect continous.

The grass looks wet. Has it been raining?
I know, I'm really red. I've been running!

Can't we say?:

The grass looks wet. Was it raining?
I know, I'm really red. I was running!

The past continuous describes a completed time period. You would use it if you were describing a past situation which is finished, such as telling a story about last week or when you were on holiday.

The present perfect (simple and continous) is often used to describe a situation with a present result - a present result of a past action. Here there is such a result (the grass is still wet, your face is red), so the present perfect is the best option.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again, 

Thank you very much for this insightful response.I have another question about this topic. I hope you can help me understand my doubts in a very easy way.

Consider this scenario: It is it is 3:00 p.m. now. I started listening to the music on the radio at 2:30 p.m. I listened to the songs on the radio until 2:59 p.m. Should I say I have been listening to the songs on the radio or I was listening to the songs on the radio?

Thank you once again.


 

Hello ShetuYogme,

The present perfect is very often used for actions which finished in the very recent past as we can still feel the effects of them - in this case, for example, you could still hear the songs in your head and still feel the emotions they evoked. Thus I have been listening is the most likely form here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 19/03/2024 - 22:55

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Hello Kirk, Jonathan, Peter,

A friend of mine works as a project manager at an Italian construction firm. One of his project superintendents was not particularly happy with communication within the company. This guy's team was to have started working in a client's apartment, but his client (Ms. Arreghini) decided to go on vacation first. The superintendent and the client discussed this matter and agreed that the vacation would be from January 2 to January 24. At the end of the planned vacation, the superintendent called the client, only to learn that she had contacted the support managers and extended her vacation. The superintendent wrote the following message to my friend:

February 26,
Hey. I would like to raise the question of the 'Vacation status' again. My client Ms. Arreghini and I spoke about her vacation. She asked for a vacation Jan 2-Jan 24(25), 3 weeks in total. I wasn't really happy with the duration of the vacation. Now, Ms.Arreghini (1)tells me that she (2)has spoken with the managers and they (3)confirmed the START for February 6. Ms.Arreghini (4)asked me if I (5)had been informed about the start on Feb 6. No, I haven't been informed about the start on February 6. My question is: How will my waiting time be compensated, please? I have not agreed to wait for 5 weeks without compensation for this client.
 

To me, the first part of the message is in the past, and the actions don't have present relevance. The part in italics is different, all the actions there have relevance in the present. I suggest these changes:

(1)tells - seems to suggest that this activity is part of superintendent's everyday routine, continuous aspect would focus on the current situation. To me, 'is telling' sound more detached and dynamic here.
(2)has spoken - this is an important piece of information, it's still relevant. I like the present perfect here.
(3)confirmed - this past simple is inconsistent with the rest of the sentence. 'Has spoken' and 'have confirmed' have to be together in the present perfect. Both actions are still relevant in the present.
(4)asked - I would say that her question is still relevant in the present, moreover, this question was part of the same conversation. I think the present perfect would work better here.
(5)had been informed - if we change 'asked' to 'has asked', we will use 'have been informed'. It's merely a technical change, since we don't have to backshift anymore.

Does it make sense?

Thank you

Hi Tony_M,

Thanks for helpfully explaining the context. We do find shorter questions easier to discuss and answer in the limited space here, but I'll give my comments below..

1. "tells" – the present simple is fine. For verbs representing speech acts (e.g. say, ask, tell, claim), the present simple is often used even for a single action, not just for regular or routine actions. (e.g. Then she asks me … / Now you say that …). “Is telling” is fine too, and perhaps does sound more dynamic.

2. Yes, agreed.

3. There’s nothing wrong with the past simple here. The present perfect in 2 (“has spoken”) has already established the relevance of the action to the present discussion. After doing so, it’s common to shift to the past simple to give further details about the same action (e.g. I’ve quit my job! I handed in my notice yesterday.) 

In fact, using the present perfect “have confirmed” may give the impression that the statement about the start date is still true or valid, whereas actually it’s no longer true because the client extended her vacation. The past simple might be preferable, to show that the date was confirmed at that time but the situation has now changed. 

4. The present perfect is fine, but so is the past simple (same reason as in point 3, above).

5. “Have been informed” is fine.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello Jonathan,

Thank you for your answer. 

Sorry, I made a small, yet important, mistake in my message. My friend received the message from his superintendent on January 26, so February 6 was in the future in relation to this conversation. 

The superintendent contacted the client on January 26 because he thought that she would have come back already (initially, her vacation was from Jan 2 to Jan 24(25)). Unfortunately, that was not the case. At some point during her vacation, she decided to extend it, contacted the managers, and they confirmed the start in February. She didn't notify the superintendent, neither did the managers. On January 26 number 3 (they confirmed) was still relevant to the present, moreover, not only was it relevant to the present, but it was also relevant to the future, since the new start was scheduled for February 6.

Will the present perfect be the correct tense, considering this detail? 

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Submitted by HelloThere on Sun, 17/03/2024 - 17:21

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Dear team,

I'm confused with these

  1. You look dizzy. Have you been drinking?(continuous)
  2. He can't even walk. He have drunk alcohol.(simple)

What's the difference? Thanks in advance sirs.

Hi HelloThere,

The second example is not a correct sentence. You could say "He is drunk' (adjective) or 'He has drunk some alcohol', which is grammatically correct but does not sound natural. Let me explain why.

Generally, the continuous form focuses on a repeated or ongoing activity over a period of time, while the simple form focuses on the action as a single thing (even if it takes a long time). Getting drunk is something that takes a while - it is a process which develops over time and can be interrupted, not a single act. Therefore, the continuous form makes more sense here.

The simple form would be appropriate if you were describing an act which has a clear consequence or result. For example:

He's late. He has missed his train.

She's sick. She has eaten something poisonous.

They're not here. They have gone to work.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team