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 Melvin,

The Cambridge Dictionary (see the ‘Negatives’ section) agrees that already in negative sentences refers to something that should have happened, while yet is for something that simply has not happened. You may also find interesting discussions of this question elsewhere online (e.g. this Stack Exchange discussion).

About the different explanations that you’ve heard from different teachers, I would say two things:

  • We should note that the meanings of already and yet overlap considerably. Both refer to expectations that an action has been done. That makes distinguishing one from the other not always easy to do.
  • It’s also hard to talk about example sentences isolated from context, i.e., the people, the situation and the rest of the conversation. This context often provides a reason for choosing one word or another – e.g., someone might use already instead of yet as a reference to something that was said earlier, even if they don't particularly need the 'should have happened' meaning:

If you’ve already registered, thanks a lot! If you haven’t already registered, …

But with an example sentence abstracted from context, two people could look at it and imagine totally different contexts of use, leading them to give to different explanations.

 

It is possible that there are differences between British and American English usage here. But in general, we should also consider other explanations. For example, perhaps those teachers you mentioned had particular examples or a particular lesson or a particular context in mind. Or perhaps their intention was to give an easier-to-understand or more practical explanation. It’s hard for us to comment on other teachers’ comments – it might be better to follow up with them.

I hope this helps in some way, but I'm afraid it may not be possible for us to ‘clear up your confusion’ as you put it – as you can see, even language teachers have differences of opinion. But perhaps this is only natural with something as complex and diverse as language usage.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 04:36

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Hi Jonathan, Thanks ever so much for your clear-cut explanation. Way to go ! Now, I'd like to ask for your help again to explain the usage of the word "already" in negative sentences, such as: [1] Haven't you already contacted him? [2] Anyone who doesn't already become a member should sign up now. [3] If you didn't already tell them yesterday, you can inform them now. Questions: [1] What's the difference of meaning felt by the speaker if they use "yet" in those sentences? [2] Are the verb tenses correct in those sentences above? I mean we don't have to use present or past perfect tenses for this "already + negative sentence" formula, do we? Your clear explanation on this issue would be highly appreciated. Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Although compared to yet gives a stronger sense that the speaker expects the action has in fact been done. For example:

  • Haven't you already contacted him? (I think you probably have done it.)
  • Haven't you contacted him yet? (I don't know whether you have done it or not.)

So, the already version may be used if a speaker expects that you have in fact contacted him, but just wants to check or confirm it. The yet question may be used when the speaker is pointing out something he/she thinks you might have forgotten to do or haven't done in time.

About your second question, yes - in modern usage, already is used with the past simple (as in your sentence 3), even though traditionally it is taught that it should be used with perfect verb forms. But the verb form in sentence 2 isn't right - (doesn't) become in the present simple doesn't work. It should be in the present perfect (or past simple).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 23/06/2021 - 15:04

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Hi Jonathan, thanks for your clear explanation. I could probably make a conclusion that the word "ever" (=at any time) can be used in affirmative relative clauses when the sentence begins with one of the three key words : "any / all / every". Is my assumption right ? I look forward to your further comments on my view. Best regards,

Hi Melvin,

Yes, as far as I know. I would also add that:

  • there may be other words that co-occur with ever, apart from those three you mentioned.
  • they do not always occur at the start of a sentence (e.g. I can remember every teacher I've ever had.)
  • your conclusion is true of other structures too, not just relative clauses (e.g. If any customer ever complains, let the manager know.)

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 20:53

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Hello. Is the following sentence correct? If not, why. - I have met John since September. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

No, it's incorrect because met is a momentary action, but since shows the action had a duration until the present. So, here are two corrections we can make:

  • I have known John since September.
  • I met John in September.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team.
In Cambridge Advanced Grammar in Use; 2nd edition Page 6 unit 3, I found the following sentence "Have you met any of your neighbours since you've lived here?" The book used "have met". What do you say? or what is the difference between my question and this sentence?
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

OK, yes - let me make a correction. It IS a correct sentence if the intended meaning is "I have met John in that time period" (i.e. from September to now).

Reading the original sentence, that meaning did not occur to me at first, perhaps because without knowing the context in which this is said, it is unclear why September is significant for the speaker. That's why I interpreted the sentence as about the length of time that the person has known John. (In this meaning, the significance of September is clear - it's the time that John and the speaker first met.)

Perhaps this is a good example of the importance of the context for interpreting meaning :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 16:25

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Hi Jonathan, thanks for your explanation about the usage of the word "ever" (= at any time). I gather that if we want to use it in affirmative sentences, we should use it in relative clauses. I'm on the way of developing a correct understanding about this usage and would highly appreciate if you could help me correct and comment on the following sentences: [1] Any house that has ever been built in this area is luxurious. (= built at any time) [2] All the cars that ever pass this street have to be checked for safety. (= pass at any time) [3] Every lesson I've ever made is offered for free. (made at any time). [4] This drug is good for people who have ever suffered from cancer. (suffered at any time) Best regards, Melvin

Hi Melvin,

The sentences are grammatically fine. In all four sentences, the ‘at any time’ meaning is already conveyed by other words (any house / all the cars / every lesson / people who have suffered), so ‘ever’ can be deleted without changing the basic meaning of the sentences, and I think many speakers would ordinarily leave ‘ever’ out from those sentences – unless they were in situations where they wanted to make that particular emphasis.

But, sentence 3 is more common than the others, because it contains a commonly used phrase: every ___ I’ve ever ___ (e.g. everything I’ve ever done / every man I’ve ever known / every film I’ve ever seen).

Also, it’s true that ever is often used in relative clauses, but it’s not limited to that. For example:

  • It was the best birthday ever.
  • He was the first person ever to climb that mountain.
  • All I ever wanted was a stable job.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 29/05/2021 - 10:36

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Hello. Which sentence is correct correct? I think No. 1 is wrong. 1- Are you sleeping any better since you've been taking the pills? 2- Have you been sleeping any better since you've been taking the pills? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think both are possible and there's really little difference in meaning as both are asking about an open time period.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 28/05/2021 - 17:54

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Hello. What is the difference in meaning please? - I have watched TV all night. Now I’m going to bed. - I have been watching TV all night. Now I’m going to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The difference here is one of emphasis. The simple form emphasises the result of a particular action - my eyes are tired, I'm bored with TV etc. The continuous form emphasises the effort or duration of an activity - this is too much TV, the evening was a waste of time etc. Both are possible; the choice is up to the speaker and what they want to communicate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maahir on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 11:40

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Hi The LearnEnglish Team, I am somehow confused about the answers of these two questions. 1- Have you always ___ garlic? A- hated B- been hating 2- Has someone ___ my special bread? There's only a little bit left. A- eaten B- been eating. I have chosen A,A and it says the correct answers are B,B instead. May you kindly explain it a little more? Thanks

Hello Maahir,

'hate' is a stative verb and is generally not used in continuous forms. It's an ongoing state.

For 2, we can see that only a little bit of bread is left. We are seeing the evidence of recent activity and so the continuous form is best here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 04:36

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Hi, You mentioned that "We often use for, since and how long with the present perfect continuous to talk about ongoing single or repeated actions." Does the adjective "ongoing" also apply to "repeated actions", as in do you mean to say ongoing single actions and ongoing repeated actions? Also if it is a repeated action (which means it must have started, then stopped , then started and stopped again and so on), how is it that the the repeated action can be considered to be ongoing, a term which implies the action has been continuing and never stopped once before?
Profile picture for user Jonathan R

Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 05:46

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Timothy555,

Yes, that's right. It means ongoing single actions or ongoing repeated actions.

For repeated actions, 'ongoing' refers to the repetition of the action - that is, the repetition is ongoing, and has not ceased yet (as opposed to a repeated action that is no longer ongoing, e.g., I used to play tennis every Sunday for years, but I don't anymore).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tami on Tue, 06/04/2021 - 13:41

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Hello! I have a question.... If we talk about are selfs and we are angry then we are going to use Present Perfect Simple or Continuous? I have an example...Who has (use) my mobile?

Hello tami,

If you see evidence of someone recently using your mobile, then you should use the present perfect continuous: 'Who has been using my mobile?'

I'm not sure if you'd be familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but this reminds me of the father bear, who says 'Someone has been eating my porridge' when he sees that part of his food has been eaten.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by wasan0909 on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 01:57

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she's been preparing for the party all day she have prepared for the party we've worked on the project yesterday I've had a panic attack please tell me if those sentences correct or not.

Hello wasan0909,

The first one is correct and the fourth one is correct in a certain situation, for example when you're talking about your life experience. It means that you had a panic attack at one point in your life.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by vanshh03 on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 21:53

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Which one of these is correct? 1-He has had cancer since 2016. 2-He has cancer since 2016 And if neither then what will be the correct statement?

Submitted by Nik on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 15:24

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Hello!May someone help me?I was wondering...If i want to say:it is the first(second,last etc)time i'm doing somenting for a specific time passed(if i'm saying it right),and i'm saying that during the time i'm doing that,and i also want to point out when was the last time i did it in the past. For example,i'm eating sushi with a friend and i want to say to him that it is the first time i'm eating sushi by also announcing him how long has it took me to eat sushi since the last time i did..To clarify even further my thought i will write the sentence that first popped into my head(and i'm sure there something wrong with) when i was wondering of how to express this thought.So it goes something like this: "It is the first time i've been eating sushi for the last two years" I hope it makes some sense and i did't confused you. I would be grateful for some help. Thank you in advance!

Hello Nik,

I think there are several ways to say this:

This is the first time I've eaten sushi in two years.

This is the first time in two years I've eaten sushi.

The last time I ate sushi was two years ago.

It's two years since I last ate sushi.

I haven't eaten sushi for two years.

I haven't eaten sushi since two years ago.

I think the simple form (I've eaten) rather than the continuous form (I've been eating) is better here as we are talking about the action as a whole rather than the process of eating.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fr on Sun, 13/12/2020 - 08:51

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Hello Could you please explain for me why in the below sentence we have "present perfect continuous" 1. I have been drinking more water lately, and I feel better.
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 14/12/2020 - 07:58

In reply to by Fr

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Hello Fr,

In terms of the table above, I'd say it says 'how long'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tarana on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 08:22

In reply to by Fr

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Hello. Present Perfect Continuous can also be used to describe repeated activities which started recently.

Submitted by merkaz on Wed, 09/12/2020 - 12:52

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Hello, witch one is the correct answer: Let's have a coffee break, shall we? 1- I really shouldn't. I have only worked for an hour. or 2- I really shouldn't. I have only been working for an hour.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 07:48

In reply to by merkaz

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Hello merkaz,

Neither form is incorrect but I would say that the second example is better. The present perfect continuous emphasises that the action (working) is not complete, which is appropriate in this context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Stellaaa on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 01:35

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Hello I had been waiting for these things over 2 months I had waited for these things over 2 months What is the difference between these two sentences ?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 30/11/2020 - 07:26

In reply to by Stellaaa

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Hello Stellaaa,

The difference is primarily one of emphasis. The simple form (had waited) focuses on the action as a single unit, while the continuous form (had been waiting) emphasises the process or activity.

 

In practical terms, this generally means that the simple form describes a completed action: I had waited for over two months, but the waiting was over. The continuous form suggests that the waiting was not finished: I had been waiting for over two months, and may be waiting a little longer.

 

Note that these are questions of perspective rather than fact: we are talking about how the speaker sees the situation, not how the situation really is. Thus, when the speaker uses the continuous form (in the past - had been waiting - or the present - have been waiting) they are signalling that they were/are still in the mental state of waiting. That is to say that they are still irritated or frustrated, for example. When the speaker uses the simple form they are signalling that they consider the waiting to be complete and, probably, behind them; they can look back on the waiting as something prior.

 

Incidentally, this page is about the present perfect simple and continuous rather than the past perfect. The forms work in the same way with a simple time shift (now > then), but you may find it useful to look at this page and some of the questions and answers in the comments:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/past-perfect

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigitcan on Mon, 16/11/2020 - 19:12

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Hello team, My question It ___(not raın) for the past two months I think answer is It hasn't been raining... But right answer is It hasn't raıned.Why we don't use present perfect continuous? action is continuing

Hello Yigitcan,

Both the simple and continuous forms are possible here. It really depends on the speaker. If you want to focus on the ongoing situation (no rain) then the continuous is more likely. If you want to focus on the result (a drought) then the simple is more likely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maya.micheal on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 00:03

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Hello team, Could you please tell me wetherwe use the present perfect continuous in these examples or present perfect simple? 1-the children are tired now.they (have been playing/have played) in the garden 2-you look tired.Have you(worked/been working) hard? 3-Are you ok? You look as if you have(cried/been crying) Do we here focus on the result or or the activity? I think the present perfect continuous is more appropirate
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 02:27

In reply to by Maya.micheal

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Hi Maya.micheal,

You're right! Although all three examples start with the result of the action, the second sentence in each example focuses on the activity. The speaker is interested in what activity has caused the result that he/she can see. So, the present perfect continuous is the best choice here.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 08:10

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Hello team, I would like to ask some questions. e.g, Has someone been eating my special bread? There's only a little bit left. Why "been eating" is used? From the sentences, the special bread only a little bit left, which is the result. e.g, Have you always hated garlic? Why didn't use "been hating" to indicate the person always hates garlic? Thanks a lot.

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 20:44

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Dear Team, My teacher taught me a few sentences about present perfect and present.p.continuous but I'm still confused about those sentences. "Jonas is a writer. He writes mystery novels. He has written/has been writing (my teacher told me both present perfect and p.p.contin can be used.) since he was 18 years old. He has written 6 novels." Could you tell me why both tenses can be used? As far as I know, this is doing till now So we must definitely use Present Perfect Contin rather than Present Perfect. Thank you!!!
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 16:09

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hello DaniWeebKage,

I'd encourage you to ask your teacher about that. There is probably some context (that I can't think of right now) in which present perfect simple would make sense there, but in general I think the continuous form is best.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Krik, Yes, I asked her about that. She told me that Present Perfect Can be used in "Changes over time'' Jonas does not write anything until he is 18 years old. He do write after 18. Does It make sense?

Hello DaniWeebKage,

It is possible to use the present simple tense to tell a story about the past -- if you follow the link and look at the 'Advanced' section on the page, you'll see some examples of this. I'm not sure if that's what you meant with your sentences about Jonas.

This use of the present simple is a little unusual -- people would normally use the past simple in these sentences (assuming that Jonas is now older): 'Jonas didn't write until he was 18'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khaled hasan on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 20:58

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Hello Sir, My teacher gave us a sentence as an example for the present perfect and it was the following (he is at rest now, he has driven for 2 hours) he said we used present perfect because the action is finished, but shouldn't it be present perfect continuous, since it focus on the continuity of the action(he got tired because of the action of driving itself, and not because he finished it)??
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 27/09/2020 - 09:23

In reply to by Khaled hasan

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Hello Khaled hasan,

Generally, the present perfect continuous is used in a context like this, but the present perfect simple is possible too. It really depends on what the speaker wants to emphasise and upon the broader context in which the sentence is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Submitted by Khaled hasan on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 09:52

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Hello Sir I have a problem in determining what tense should I use in these cases: 1- he has____(stay) with friends for too long. He needs to find a house of his own. 2-I think someone has____(use) my my phone. The battery is nearly dead.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 05:19

In reply to by Khaled hasan

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Hi Khaled hasan,

Yes, your sentences are tricky! 

In sentence 1, I'd say he's been staying (present perfect continuous). The continuous tense emphasises the duration of the activity (for too long). 

In sentence 2, I'd say has been using (present perfect continuous). Again, this emphasises that the activity went on a long time, and somebody didn't just use the phone for a moment. That fits the situation, since the battery is nearly dead. 

But, I would also say that in real life usage, different answers are acceptable. For example, in sentence 1 we could say he's stayed (present perfect simple) if we want to give a sense that the situation (staying with friends) has reached a point where it must end and cannot continue. We might emphasise different things in different contexts of speaking.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Malika_Meg on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 13:53

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Hello, Could you please clarify one thing? Test 1, q. 3, why the correct answer is 'been eating'? The fact that there is only a little bit left looks like some kind of result, isn't it? Thank you, Malika