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

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Average: 5 (4 votes)

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.

Hi anhtuan01995,

I would prefer sentence 1 (present perfect continuous) because it emphasises how long the activity has been going on. Also, since the essay is "still not right", it seems that the speaker intends to continue the writing (i.e. the activity isn't completed), so the present perfect continuous fits well. Sentence 2 is I think borderline acceptable, especially in informal communication, but the present perfect simple might be misunderstood as showing a completed action, which does not seem to be the situation here.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by woody25 on Sun, 04/12/2022 - 14:23

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Hello

I have done the 'Grammar Test 1', but I don't understand why some sentences using that tenses, could you please explain them as follows:

1. 'Has someone been eating my special bread? There's only a little bit left.'
Why not use 'Has someone eaten my special bread'?

2. 'I've been learning English for three years and soon I'm going to be using it at work.'
Why not use the present perfect tense?

3. 'Sorry, I'm late! How long have you been waiting?'
Why not use the present perfect tense? I think when I said that, I have already arrived, so it is a completed action?

4. 'You've got white dust all over you! What have you been doing?
Why not use the present perfect tense?

Thank you.

Hello woody25,

It's difficult to write sentences that give the background information or which describe the situation we normally encounter when speaking in the real world.

In the first and fourth sentences, the idea is that the little bit left is evidence of recent activity -- for example, you're standing there with the little bit of bread left in your hands, or you can see the white dust all over the person. In these cases, the continuous form emphasises the immediacy of these situations.

In the second and third, we're talking about 'how long'. In both of these cases, it would sound unnatural to use the simple form.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Befml on Tue, 11/10/2022 - 18:36

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Hello, since both the present perfect simple and continuous connect past to present, I find it difficult to explain where the focus of attention lies in some examples. Could you please help me with the following ones? And, would it be possible to use either in cases 2, 3 and 4.

1. Have learnt; have been learning
a. How long have you learnt Chinese? I’ve learnt Chinese for a year.
b. How long have you been learning Chinese? I’ve been learning Chinese for a year.

2.Have spent
They have spent the last three months preparing to launch their YouTube channel and they’re finally ready!

3. Has had
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech in 1963. The I Have a Dream has had a huge influence on the speeches of other leaders ever since.

4.Has expanded; has been developing; has hoped
Bezos originally set Amazon up as an online bookstore, but it has expanded a great deal since then and now sells a huge range of goods.
Bezos was able to set up Blue Origin, a company which specialises in space flight and travel. Blue Origin has been developing innovative space vehicles for many years now. Bezos has hoped for many years that, one day, his company’s technology will allow humans to live on other planets.

Thank you very much.