Present perfect simple and continuous

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

Average: 4.4 (110 votes)
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Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 19/03/2024 - 22:55

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Hello Kirk, Jonathan, Peter,

A friend of mine works as a project manager at an Italian construction firm. One of his project superintendents was not particularly happy with communication within the company. This guy's team was to have started working in a client's apartment, but his client (Ms. Arreghini) decided to go on vacation first. The superintendent and the client discussed this matter and agreed that the vacation would be from January 2 to January 24. At the end of the planned vacation, the superintendent called the client, only to learn that she had contacted the support managers and extended her vacation. The superintendent wrote the following message to my friend:

February 26,
Hey. I would like to raise the question of the 'Vacation status' again. My client Ms. Arreghini and I spoke about her vacation. She asked for a vacation Jan 2-Jan 24(25), 3 weeks in total. I wasn't really happy with the duration of the vacation. Now, Ms.Arreghini (1)tells me that she (2)has spoken with the managers and they (3)confirmed the START for February 6. Ms.Arreghini (4)asked me if I (5)had been informed about the start on Feb 6. No, I haven't been informed about the start on February 6. My question is: How will my waiting time be compensated, please? I have not agreed to wait for 5 weeks without compensation for this client.
 

To me, the first part of the message is in the past, and the actions don't have present relevance. The part in italics is different, all the actions there have relevance in the present. I suggest these changes:

(1)tells - seems to suggest that this activity is part of superintendent's everyday routine, continuous aspect would focus on the current situation. To me, 'is telling' sound more detached and dynamic here.
(2)has spoken - this is an important piece of information, it's still relevant. I like the present perfect here.
(3)confirmed - this past simple is inconsistent with the rest of the sentence. 'Has spoken' and 'have confirmed' have to be together in the present perfect. Both actions are still relevant in the present.
(4)asked - I would say that her question is still relevant in the present, moreover, this question was part of the same conversation. I think the present perfect would work better here.
(5)had been informed - if we change 'asked' to 'has asked', we will use 'have been informed'. It's merely a technical change, since we don't have to backshift anymore.

Does it make sense?

Thank you

Hi Tony_M,

Thanks for helpfully explaining the context. We do find shorter questions easier to discuss and answer in the limited space here, but I'll give my comments below..

1. "tells" – the present simple is fine. For verbs representing speech acts (e.g. say, ask, tell, claim), the present simple is often used even for a single action, not just for regular or routine actions. (e.g. Then she asks me … / Now you say that …). “Is telling” is fine too, and perhaps does sound more dynamic.

2. Yes, agreed.

3. There’s nothing wrong with the past simple here. The present perfect in 2 (“has spoken”) has already established the relevance of the action to the present discussion. After doing so, it’s common to shift to the past simple to give further details about the same action (e.g. I’ve quit my job! I handed in my notice yesterday.) 

In fact, using the present perfect “have confirmed” may give the impression that the statement about the start date is still true or valid, whereas actually it’s no longer true because the client extended her vacation. The past simple might be preferable, to show that the date was confirmed at that time but the situation has now changed. 

4. The present perfect is fine, but so is the past simple (same reason as in point 3, above).

5. “Have been informed” is fine.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello Jonathan,

Thank you for your answer. 

Sorry, I made a small, yet important, mistake in my message. My friend received the message from his superintendent on January 26, so February 6 was in the future in relation to this conversation. 

The superintendent contacted the client on January 26 because he thought that she would have come back already (initially, her vacation was from Jan 2 to Jan 24(25)). Unfortunately, that was not the case. At some point during her vacation, she decided to extend it, contacted the managers, and they confirmed the start in February. She didn't notify the superintendent, neither did the managers. On January 26 number 3 (they confirmed) was still relevant to the present, moreover, not only was it relevant to the present, but it was also relevant to the future, since the new start was scheduled for February 6.

Will the present perfect be the correct tense, considering this detail? 

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Submitted by HelloThere on Sun, 17/03/2024 - 17:21

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Dear team,

I'm confused with these

  1. You look dizzy. Have you been drinking?(continuous)
  2. He can't even walk. He have drunk alcohol.(simple)

What's the difference? Thanks in advance sirs.

Hi HelloThere,

The second example is not a correct sentence. You could say "He is drunk' (adjective) or 'He has drunk some alcohol', which is grammatically correct but does not sound natural. Let me explain why.

Generally, the continuous form focuses on a repeated or ongoing activity over a period of time, while the simple form focuses on the action as a single thing (even if it takes a long time). Getting drunk is something that takes a while - it is a process which develops over time and can be interrupted, not a single act. Therefore, the continuous form makes more sense here.

The simple form would be appropriate if you were describing an act which has a clear consequence or result. For example:

He's late. He has missed his train.

She's sick. She has eaten something poisonous.

They're not here. They have gone to work.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ivyxoxo on Thu, 29/02/2024 - 12:46

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Hello,

Does it means that we don’t use ‘since’ for perfect continue tenses?

Also, I wanted to know what tense should we use in this sentence “I (read) this for three times since this morning.”

Hi Ivyxoxo,

No, actually we can use "since" with the present perfect continuous, to talk about ongoing actions. Some examples are on the page above in the "Ongoing states and actions" section.

In this sentence, "since this morning" indicates an unfinished time period (i.e., since this morning until now), so the present perfect simple fits well: I've read this three times since this morning. Note that "for" is not used with the number of times.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by sabbygirl411 on Thu, 22/02/2024 - 01:50

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Hello,

This is a two-part question. First, why is it that most non-stative verbs sound unnatural when put in the form of past perfect + for/since, yet “I have played tennis for many years” is perfectly okay? It should sound a bit unnatural because other dynamic verbs like “learn”, “eat”, and “write” sound a bit unnatural when put in this format:

“I have learned English for many years.”
“I have eaten tacos for many years.”
“I have written poetry for many years.”

To further illustrate it, one answer on this website even says that “have learned” + since is incorrect:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/comment/150322#comment-150322

Although later answers seem to contradict this:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/comment/180426#comment-180426
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/comment/142866#comment-142866

I’d seen a comment over on English Stack Exchange suggesting that it’s due to the resultative nature of some verbs. So perhaps one could argue that “eat” includes the finished state/clear goal of swallowing all of the food. And so on. However, what about “play tennis”? There IS a clear goal in playing tennis - to win. The action “play tennis” is over when someone wins.

It was pointed out to me by a friend that you can add context to make the above sentences sound more natural. For example, the third link in this comment:

“You said I couldn’t do it, but I’ve learned English for two months now!”

But still, why SHOULD we need context to make these sound natural when “play tennis” + for/since doesn’t need any context?

Also, I understand that “work”, “study”, and “live” can have stative meanings. For example, in “I have worked at X company for 4 years”, “work” means “have a job”, which is stative. But with “play” I can’t imagine how to interpret it as stative. You could argue that it means “have the hobby of playing X”, but then “I have written poetry for many years” should also sound natural, considering it’s a hobby.

Second, how should we teach the difference between PP and PPC + for/since? To prompt the past perfect, I asked my students something like “What is something you have done consistently for a long time? For example, a hobby or habit.” The students answered with examples like “learn”, “eat” and “write”. Of course, I gave them the points, but I corrected it with PPC. But I didn’t know how to explain why it was better and to what extent I should even bother explaining. What do you think?

Excuse me for the terribly long comment. If you do answer, I will be very grateful.