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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Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 17/09/2022 - 20:38

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Hello. Could you please help me? What's wrong with the following sentence?
- Tom is the most intelligent child I have lately seen.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I don't think the sentence is incorrect but the normal position for the adverb 'lately' is after the verb phrase rather than before the main verb.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 15/09/2022 - 16:11

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Hello. Could you please help me? Can I say, “I haven’t done this since a long time ago.”
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes, grammatically that is fine! But I think it would be more common to say "for a long time" - it's simpler.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Befml on Thu, 18/08/2022 - 22:24

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Hello, could you please tell me if you can use both the present perfect simple and continuous in the following examples:

1 a.They've won all their matches recently.
b.The've been winning all their matches recently.

2 a. They've won all their matches so far this season.
b. They've been winning all their matches so far this season.

Thank you very much.

Hello Befml,

Yes, both forms are possible in these examples. The difference is minimal without knowing any broader context, though I would say that the continuous can suggest that the speaker considers the situation temporary, atypical or unrepresentative in some way.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Victoria7 on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 20:06

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Hello, I have a question as regards the difference between these two tenses. Is it true that both tenses are used to describe situations that are still happening in the present (apart from the other uses)? That is, if I say 'I've been here since Friday' it implies that I'm still here or 'I've driven 500 kilometres' could imply that I've reached that amount and I'm still driving.
I can see the differences between the two tenses but at the same time they seem really subtle. Could they be interchangeable in most cases (not when using stative verbs)?
Thanks in advance

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