Present perfect simple and present perfect continuous
Choose the present perfect simple or present perfect continuous to complete the sentences below. If both tenses are possible, use the present perfect continuous.
Present perfect simple – Use
We use the present perfect simple with past finished actions or experiences when we don’t mention or we don’t know when they happened. And we also use the present perfect simple to ask or talk about situations that started in the past and have not finished.
Present perfect continuous – Form
We form the present perfect continuous with the present perfect simple of be + the -ing form of the main verb.
Present perfect continuous – Use
Actions from the past till now – duration
We use the present perfect continuous with action verbs (dynamic verbs) to talk about situations that started in the past and have not finished or have just finished.
- Have you been crying?
- Sorry I am so dirty, but I‘ve been painting.
There is often a present result from doing these actions.
- You‘ve been crying. (Your eyes are red.)
- I am dirty because I‘ve been painting.
We can use the present perfect continuous to talk about continuous or repeated actions or situations from the past till now.
- She‘s been calling you for days. (=She has repeated this action for several days.)
- I‘ve been studying since you left. (=I have done this action continuously without stopping.)
For, since, how long, lately, all day/week/month/etc.
We can use for, since, how long, lately, all day/week/month/etc. to ask or say how long a situation has been happening.
- I haven’t been feeling well lately.
- He’s been annoying us all evening.
- She’s been studying very hard for weeks.
- How long have you been playing golf?
Present perfect simple or continuous?
Situations that started in the past and still continue
We can use the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous to talk about situations that started in the past and still continue. But we must use the present perfect simple with non-action verbs (stative verbs), and we normally use the present perfect continuous with dynamic verbs (although the present perfect simple is also possible.)
- We‘ve had this car for years.
- I haven’t been sleeping well lately.
We use the present perfect continuous (and NOT simple) with dynamic verbs for situations that started in the past and still continue when we want to emphasise how long the situation has lasted.
- I have been waiting for hours! (=I want to emphasise that I’ve been waiting for a long time).
- I couldn’t do the dishes. I’ve been working all day.
Finished and unfinished situations
We use the present perfect simple for finished actions in the past when we don’t say when. We use the present perfect continuous for actions or situations that maybe have not finished or that maybe have finished (very recently)
- Who has eaten my cookies? (=We would say this if there are no cookies left. The action is finished.
- Who has been eating my cookies? (=We would say this if there are some cookies left)
- I‘ve been watching the series you recommended. I’ll tell you about it when I finish watching it.
- I‘ve watched the series you recommended. I watched the last episode yesterday.
Actions with present results
We can use present perfect simple and present perfect continuous for actions with present results. We use the present perfect simple if the present results come from completing the action.
- Look how nice my car looks. I‘ve washed it. (=The car looks nice because I have finished washing it.)
- Something is different in this house. Have you painted it? (=The house looks different because you have completed the action of painting it.)
We use the present perfect continuous if the present results come from the process of doing the action.
- Sorry I’m so sweaty. I‘ve been washing my car. (=I am sweaty because of the physical activity that washing the car involves.)
- How come you are so dirty? Have you been painting? (=You are dirty because of the process of painting.)
How long vs how many/much
We use the present perfect continuous to talk about the duration of an action, i.e. about how long we have been doing something. And we use the present perfect simple to talk about how many things or how much of something we have done.
- I’ve written twenty e-mails. (I’m talking about how many emails I’ve written.)
- I’ve been writing emails for hours. (=I’m talking about how long I have spend writing emails)
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