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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Dear Farnoush
Both sentences express the idea that the speaker has been teaching English for a period of ten years, but they use different verb tenses to do so.

"I have taught English for ten years" uses the present perfect simple tense, which focuses on the completion of an action within a period of time that includes both the past and present. The sentence suggests that the speaker started teaching English ten years ago and has continued to teach it up until the present moment. The focus is on the fact that the speaker has ten years of experience teaching English.

"I have been teaching English for ten years" uses the present perfect continuous tense, which focuses on the duration of an action that started in the past and continues up to the present moment. The sentence suggests that the speaker has been continuously teaching English for the past ten years, with no breaks or interruptions. The focus is on the process of teaching English over the past ten years.

In short, the main difference between the two sentences is the aspect of time they emphasize. The first sentence emphasizes the completion of the action (teaching English) within a period of time, while the second sentence emphasizes the duration of the action over that period of time.

Submitted by howtosay_ on Mon, 20/03/2023 - 23:33

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Hello!

Could you please help me with the following:

1. Am I right in thinking that the action of the Present Perfect Continuous might or might be not finished according to the context?

2. Which option is better if I want to say that my parents helped me, are helping me and will be doing so:

My parents have been helping me a lot and are doing so now. Or just saying My parents have been helping me a lot implies that they are continuing to do it?

I'm very grateful for you helping me a lot and thank you very much for answering this post beforehand!!!

Hello howtosay_,

Yes, that's right -- the action may or may not be finished. Normally the context will make this clear, though it's also possible for it to be ambiguous. In such a case, you can ask the speaker to clarify if that's appropriate.

Regarding your second question, 'have been helping me' means that it's possible your parents are still helping you. I think most people would simply use this second option (instead of adding 'and are doing so now'), but there's nothing wrong with the first option, either. You could use option 1 is you really wanted to emphasise that point, for example, of if you thought the other person hadn't understood this important point.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Talesh on Thu, 23/02/2023 - 09:02

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Hello team,

I'm new here, so please forgive me if I'm asking a question which has already been asked - I tried to go through all the pages, but might have missed it.

My question concerns the following sentence "This nation hasn't overthrown the government for about fifty years". I feel like this is the correct option, however, could you tell me if using Present Perfect Continuous would be possible here? The verb is dynamic (I guess so, at least) but it doesn't seem right to use PPC here even though we are actually interested in the duration of the action (though it seems less important).

I will be grateful for your help.

Hi Talesh,

Welcome! And thanks for your interesting question. It's a bit complicated because this sentence shows an action not happening (rather than happening). The phrase "for about fifty years" refers to the length of time since the action (overthrowing) last happened. So, it doesn't show the duration of the action in the way that an affirmative sentence does (e.g., This nation has been supporting the government for about fifty years - "for about fifty years" is the duration of "supporting").

It is possible to use the present perfect continuous to emphasise duration, but it emphasises the duration of "not overthrowing". (For example: The nation hasn't been overthrowing the government for very long.) It doesn't refer to the duration since the last overthrowing, which is what "for about fifty years" refers to in the original sentence.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by lRaisa on Wed, 22/02/2023 - 20:57

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Hi,
I am wondering about using for
you said: We often use for, since and how long with the present perfect continuous to talk about ongoing single or repeated actions

Using for is confusing for me.

1)We can use for in the Present Perfect Cont when an activity is happening at the moment of speaking.
I have been playing chess for 10 minutes

2) But.. We can also use Present Perfect Cont and Present Perfect Simple when an activity is not happening at the moment of speaking, we use continuous to emphasise.

I've been playing chess for 15 minutes

These aspects are clear to me but I'm wondering about Present Continuous as a temporary action/around now. The temporary action is something that started in the past and will finish in the future, but the actions haven't finished yet. We also use it even if it's not happening now.
So, what if we use it here:
I am playing chess for 20 minutes
Does it make sense?

It looks the same as the number two
Playing chess is not happening at the moment of speaking it is a temporary action so what's the difference?

Am I right? Or the sentence I am playing chess for 20 minutes is okay but only on condition that is it referring to the future?

Hello lRaisa,

Yes, the uses of the present perfect continuous can be tricky to understand. It's great to understand it as best you can with grammar explanations and exercises, but I've had many students who only became comfortable with it after reading and speaking over a long period of time. Remember that the way we speak comes first; the explanations are attempts to help you notice how we speak. They are not instructions for the way to speak and there can be some overlap between the ideas.

I'd like to suggest a different example sentence to explain 'a temporary action/around now'. Let's say that normally I take the bus to work, but two weeks ago I started walking to work. I'm still doing it this week and plan to do it for a few more weeks. In this situation, me walking to work is a temporary action -- it started two weeks ago and will finish in a few more weeks. This is a good time to use the present perfect continuous: 'I've been walking to work'. I could also say 'I've been walking to work for two weeks' if I wanted to emphasise the time I began, but this sort of emphasis is only appropriate when it's important for some reason.

This can indeed be similar to 'an activity that is not happening at the moment of speaking'. Obviously, if I say this while I'm walking to work, it is true at the moment of speaking. If I say it to a colleague at work when they tell me in the middle of the day that I seem to have more energy, it's not happening at the moment of speaking.

'I am playing chess for 20 minutes' is not a present perfect continuous form; it's a present continuous form. What exactly it means depends on what it describes. For example, it could be a plan for tomorrow, or it could be happening at the time of speaking. Because it's a present continuous form, it doesn't include the idea that you played chess for 20 minutes yesterday or in the past, though this doesn't mean you didn't do that, either.

I hope this helps you. By the way, I think you might find our Continuous aspect page useful.

Best regards,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Arshiy on Wed, 22/02/2023 - 16:32

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Hello,
Which one out of the two is grammatically correct?

I have been working in the garden all morning and it is already 11.30am.
I had been working in the garden all morning and it is already 11.30am.

Hello Arshiy,

The two forms here are present perfect continuous (have been working) and past perfect continuous (had been working). Perfect forms connect an earlier action or state to a later one: present perfect connects a past situation to a present situation while past perfect connects an earlier past situation to a later past situation.

 

In your sentence you are connecting a past situation (working) to a present situation (it is 11.30). Therefore the present perfect is correct - have been working.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team