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

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
Average: 5 (5 votes)
Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 21:43

Permalink

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

Hello again. So both sentences are correct. Could you please explain the difference in meaning between them?
Thank you.

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

Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 08/12/2021 - 09:32

Permalink

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

Submitted by ngoc on Sun, 26/09/2021 - 16:16

Permalink
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

Submitted by lima9795 on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 00:55

Permalink
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
Profile picture for user Jonathan R

Submitted by Jonathan R on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 04:54

In reply to by lima9795

Permalink

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