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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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.

Hi Befml,

Sure, I'll try to help.

1a focuses on the completeness of the learning activity/effort. 1b focuses on the ongoing nature of the learning, and suggests it may continue in the present and future.

In 2, "they have spent" shows a completed action. The focus is on the result of the action, which is "they're finally ready". Present perfect continuous ("they have been spending") is also possible, but the simple structure supports the finality of "they're finally ready" better.

3 focuses on the result of the action. The continuous form is also possible, if you want to emphasise the ongoing nature of the influence. However, the continuous form "has been having an influence" may be reworded more simply: "has been influencing".

In 4, "it has expanded" focuses on the completeness of the expansion, and "it now sells ..." is the result. The continuous form is also possible, but that focuses on the ongoing process of expansion, which perhaps conflicts slightly with the result focus of "it now sells".

"Has been developing" focuses on the continuing nature of the process and how long it has been going on. It therefore supports the meaning of "for many years" well. The simple form "has developed" presents it as a completed action, which does not seem to be the case here.

"Has hoped" focuses on the completeness of the action. The continuous form is also possible, to emphasise hoping continuously and that the hope may continue now and into the future.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jonathan,
Thank you very much for all your helpful explanations! They really clarify the use of one tense or the other in each case.
Have a nice day

Submitted by PN on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 05:24

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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

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 25/09/2022 - 10:21

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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

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 09:46

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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.