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 (111 votes)

Hello sabbygirl411,

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.”

I don't agree that non-stative verbs are wrong here and I think if they sound unnatural it's more because they lack any context which would justify why the simple (seeing the action as a whole) is used rather than the progressive (seeing the action as an ongoing process). If we add that context I think they sound perfectly fine:

I have learned English for many years and no-one has ever explained it that clearly to me before.

I have eaten tacos for many years and I've never had an allergic reaction like that before.

I have written poetry for many years so if you need any advice feel free to ask.

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

The use here is different: 'I have learned English' [learn + direct object] vs 'I have learned to speak English' [learn + infinitive]. The infinitive suggests a successfully completed goal - an acquired skill. For example:

As a student I learned engine repair. [I took courses, I trained in it]

As a student I learned to repair engines. [now I can do it]

If you change the sentence referred to in the question there to learn + direct object then the sentence is fine:

She has learned cooking since the age of seven.

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

I don't see the contraction here.

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?

I think your friend is right but I don't agree that the context is necessary for one and not the other. All language requires context. It's simply that case that without a context we default to the most common situation. Playing tennis is a hobby and there's no mental jump required to think of it as something we do over many years. Eating tacos is something we naturally associate with a particular occasion (one meal) rather than a habit. The use of the present perfect is important here too - more on that below. Remember that result means a lot of things - not just swallowing the food but gaining knowledge, experience, joy, pain etc. All of these are results of our actions.

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.

I think the stative/non-stative question is a bit of a red herring, to be honest.

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?

Please remember that this is a service for students rather than teachers. We do get (and answer) questions from teachers from time to time but the primary goal is to help students of English. That said, I would advise two things. First, always deal with language in context. Present it in context and practise it in context as it is the context which gives it communicative sense. Second, remember that the present perfect has a number of uses (e.g. experience, present result and unfinished activity). Whether or not the continuous aspect is possible, and if it is possible whether or not it changes the meaning or simply the emphasis, is tied to the use (which is, of course, tied to the context and intention). For example, when describing our life experience we use the simple and not the continuous (I've worked in four countries not *I've been working in four countries*); when focusing on a present result the continuous suggest an unfinished action (I've read Hamlet vs I've been reading Hamlet) and so on.

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

That's OK. Sometimes a long comment is unavoidable. They do tend to go to the back of the queue, however.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Thu, 08/02/2024 - 18:08

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Can I say I’ve been travelling across Europe all Summer to show that summer and my trip has just ended and

Hello Khangvo2812,

It could mean that the traveling is finished or it could mean that it's ongoing.

What exactly someone would understand this to mean would depend on the situation and the listener's perspective.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Thu, 08/02/2024 - 10:25

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Could you tell me whether It’s the first time I have travelled to Da Nang means I’m still there?

Hi Khangvo2812,

Yes, it does. "It's" is the present simple, showing that it is still true or still happening now. However, it may be more common to say it like this: This is the first time I've been to / I've come to Da Nang

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Thu, 08/02/2024 - 10:23

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Should I say last month was the first time that I had travelled to Ha Noi, or last month was the first time that I uave travelled to Ha Noi?

Hi Khangvo2812,

Different tenses are possible. It depends on the context.

  • Past simple - Last month was the first time that I travelled to Ha Noi - Saying "last month" locates the action in the past, so ordinarily the past simple is used.
  • Present perfect - you can say I've travelled to Ha Noi (recently) to show that this is a recent action or that it is relevant to the current topic of conversation. However, it's less likely to say it together with "last month", because the time phrase is normally used with the past simple.
  • Past perfect - this can be used if the action I had travelled to Ha Noi is going to be the background to some other past events that you are going to describe.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by .Mariia on Tue, 09/01/2024 - 12:51

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Hello,
Could you please help me with these sentenses
"I'm glad that our friendship has been lasting since the first grade"
"I'm glad that our friendship has lasted since the first grade."
Wich one is correct? Or both of them are?

Hello .Mariia,

'has been lasting' is awkward and I wouldn't recommend using it. I think this has more to do with the nature of the verb 'last', which is stative use here because it's measuring time.

Although it's true that the friendship is still ongoing and so perhaps one would be tempted to use a continuous form, this statement seems to be more about the friendship as a whole. This is another reason why the simple form is the correct one here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team