Present perfect simple and continuous

Do you know the difference between We've painted the room and We've been painting the room?

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

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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Hi, I have a question. I have read an explanation that perfect continuous and present perfect can be used interchangeably when it comes to "how long" question when using certain verb (which I am not very sure what are they).

Example of sentence that can be used interchangeably according to the grammar book I've read:

1. How long have you been sleeping in this room?
2. How long have you slept in this room?

My questions are:
1. Are they really interchangeably? If yes, what are the verb that is appropriate to use in that sentence formula?

2. How to answer those questions? Should I answer it using present perfect only, present continuous only, or adjust it with the tense used in the question?

Sorry if my writing is a bit hard to understand. I am not the english native

Hello PN,

Both the simple and continuous are possible here but I wouldn't say there is no difference in meaning. The simple form clearly refers to a habitual action in this context (How long has this room been the place where you sleep?) whereas the continuous form could have that meaning but could also refer to a single action, as if the speaker has just woken up the other person.

In answer to your second question, you would answer using the same form as in the question.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team. Could you please help me? Can we use "always" with present perfect continuous or with present Perfect simple? Which form is correct in the following sentence? Why?
- Dr. John is funny. He ( has always come - has always been coming) to his clinic by scooter.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I can't think of a time when it would be appropriate to use 'always' with a present perfect continuous verb. Perhaps it's possible on some rare occasion, but as far as I know, we never say 'always' with a present perfect continuous verb.

With a present perfect simple form, however, it's quite common ('She's always like sci-fi films' or 'They've always lived in Cairo'). So of course the first of the two options is the correct one in the sentence you ask about.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me choose the correct answer? Why?
- We (have lived - have been living) here for 6 years now and we don’t intend to move.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both options are grammatically fine. We might prefer the simple version if we consider "we don't intend to move" as the result of the action "lived here for 6 years", or the continuous one if the focus is on how long the action has been going on.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? What's wrong with the following sentence?
- Tom is the most intelligent child I have lately seen.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I don't think the sentence is incorrect but the normal position for the adverb 'lately' is after the verb phrase rather than before the main verb.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? Can I say, “I haven’t done this since a long time ago.”
Thank you.

Hello, could you please tell me if you can use both the present perfect simple and continuous in the following examples:

1 a.They've won all their matches recently.
b.The've been winning all their matches recently.

2 a. They've won all their matches so far this season.
b. They've been winning all their matches so far this season.

Thank you very much.

Hello Befml,

Yes, both forms are possible in these examples. The difference is minimal without knowing any broader context, though I would say that the continuous can suggest that the speaker considers the situation temporary, atypical or unrepresentative in some way.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I have a question as regards the difference between these two tenses. Is it true that both tenses are used to describe situations that are still happening in the present (apart from the other uses)? That is, if I say 'I've been here since Friday' it implies that I'm still here or 'I've driven 500 kilometres' could imply that I've reached that amount and I'm still driving.
I can see the differences between the two tenses but at the same time they seem really subtle. Could they be interchangeable in most cases (not when using stative verbs)?
Thanks in advance

Hi Victoria7,

Good question! Yes, right - both the simple and continuous forms have the 'continuing in the present' meaning (among other meanings). But in my view, I don't think they are interchangeable in most cases. Although in some cases both forms are possible, changing from simple to continuous (or vice versa) will result in a difference in meaning or emphasis. 

I think that the meanings and emphases of the two forms and the differences between them are difficult to see clearly because learning materials (such as the page above) give short example sentences, with only minimal context. But the context is quite important - in real-life language usage, people don't only use grammar to communicate meaning. For example, if somebody says a sentence such as "I've driven 500 kilometres", they probably wouldn't just say that sentence alone. They might say, for example:

  • "I've driven 500 kilometres so far and I'm still not out of petrol" (i.e., a continuing action, and focusing on the result - there's still petrol left).
  • Or, perhaps somebody arrives home and says "I'm really tired. I've driven 500 kilometres today and I just want to take a rest." (i.e. completed action).

So, I would say that in real-life language use, the differences may be more apparent. In learning exercises, there isn't usually enough space to show the context clearly.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

and are "I've slept since 9 am//I've been sleeping since 9 am" both possible? Because I've seen a video where the first sentence is labelled as incorrect and the second is the one that should be used, with no further context but the sole sentence.

Hi Victoria7,

I think the simple and continuous forms are both grammatically possible, but when the speaker's intended focus is 'how long', the continuous form is typically used.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Because I am not a native English speaker, I would like to know whether the following sentences are correct or not. Thanks

He reads the comic book every day.
He is reading the comic book. (Now)
He has read the comic book. (The book is finished.)
He has been reading the comic book. (The book is still being read.)

The police arrested Peter and his friends yesterday.
When the police arrested Peter and his friends yesterday, they were playing poker.
When the police arrested Peter and his friends yesterday, they had played three poker games.
When the police arrested Pete and his friends yesterday, they had been playing poker for 2 hours.

We will have a party tomorrow.
When John arrives at the party tomorrow, Jenny will be singing.
When John arrives at the party tomorrow, Jenny will have sung five songs.
When John arrives at the party tomorrow, Jenny will have been singing for 30 minutes.

Hello team. Could you please help me? In the following sentence, I think both forms are OK. What is the difference then?
- He (has worked - has been working) for the company since he was twenty-five. He enjoys his work there.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes - both forms are correct. In this context the difference is only one of emphasis.

The simple form (has worked) treats the work as a single block - as an achievement, if you like.  The person may or may not continue to work for the company into the future.

The continuous form emphasises the process of work and tends to suggest that the work is ongoing and that the person will continue to work for the company into the future.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again _Shafaque_,

Yes, that's correct. In my answer to your other question I gave an example using the context of reading a book which I think should help to clarify it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, sirs.
I came across this question:
I ___ many relatives recently.
a] have met
b] have been meeting
I think both options are possible as there's no complete context. In addition, I know that 'recently' can be used with both forms and the past simple tense as well.
What do you think?

Hello aymanme2,

I agree that both forms are grammatically possible. The continuous form (b) would suggest a repeated action - many different meetings over a period of time - while the simple form (a) could also describe meeting many relatives in a single meeting.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, sir.
I got it.
However, to be more sure of my understanding, does 'many relatives' make any difference as I have found out that we usually use the present perfect simple to specify a particular number of times/things.
Ex.
I've written two essays this week. [ not have been writing]
I mean does the word 'many' and alike make the simple form more appropriate/

Hello again aymanme2,

You're right that adding a specific quantity tends to suggest a simple form. This is because specific quantities are often associated with lists of completed tasks or achievements rather than time spent on a particular activity. Thus, 'I've written two essays this week' answers the question 'How many essays have you written?' rather than 'What have you been doing?' or 'How have you been spending your time?'

In your original sentence I don't think 'many' has the same effect. Partly this is because it is not a clear quantity like a number but mainly it is because the action described is not one with any real finishing point or sense of completion. Meeting relatives does not have an end point in the same way that reading a book has.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a query here.
Present perfect (in this case 'have written' or have met) suggests completion of the action.
If the act of writing Or meeting is accomplished then present perfect would be used.
If the action is still continued, whether with many of the specified objects, then present perfect continuous should be used.
Kindly explain

Hello _Shafaque_,

The present perfect simple often shows completion of a task or activity: I've read the book [It's finished].

The present perfect continuous often suggests that the task or activity is not complete: I've been reading the book [I'm in the middle of it].

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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