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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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

Submitted by Critical Eyes on Sun, 31/07/2022 - 18:12

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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.

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 07/06/2022 - 12:54

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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

I have extracted this from your explanation
We use present perfect to talk about achievements as well.

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