Present perfect simple vs present perfect continuous
Over the last few lessons I’ve been looking at the difference between the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous with some of my students and thought I would share the rules and some examples with you too. It’s always useful to review the grammar rules, even if it isn’t new to you.
We’ve often looked at the present perfect as uniting the past to the present.
The past simple is FINISHED time that has no relation to the present. It doesn’t matter when the action happened or finished – an hour ago / 10 years ago / 1,000 years ago or the era of the dinosaurs – what is important is the fact that it is FINISHED. It’s in the past.
The present perfect is UNFINISHED time – actions that started in the past and are continuing to the present – UP TO NOW / SO FAR.
Present perfect simple actions and present perfect continuous actions are all unfinished – they all started in the past and are still continuing up to now. The difference between the simple and continuous form is on the focus.
Present perfect continuous focuses on the action and the duration of the action. Continuous actions up to now or continuous actions that have just stopped – we can see the evidence of this action now in the present. We often use the words recently or lately with this tense.
Form: have/has + been + verb + ing
NB. State verbs (i.e. understand, mean, agree, believe, love, like etc..) cannot be used with this tense or any other continuous tense.
Present perfect simple, in comparison, focuses on the result of the action – what has been completed up to now. It also focuses on experiences that you have had in your life – when it is the experience that is important, not when you had it.
Form: have/has + past participle
1. They have been playing for 40 minutes. (The focus is on the continuing action – playing – and the duration of the action up to now – 40 minutes.)
They have scored 2 goals. (The focus is on the result of the action – playing – up to now. Two goals have been completed.)
2. I have been ironing for 2 hours (action and duration).
So far I have ironed 3 pairs of jeans, 6 shirts, 10 ‘T’ shirts and 2 pairs of pyjamas (completed result of the action up to now).
3. “What have you been doing? You are all red!” (The redness is evidence of a continuous action that has just stopped)
“I’ve been jogging around the park.”
4. “John has been watching TV all day! So far he has watched 4 films and 2 cartoons.”
5. “She has been writing her new book for months now, but so far she has only written 4 chapters.”
6. “Janet has been studying a lot recently. She has an exam next week.”
7. “Have you ever been to the south of France?” “No I haven’t.”
8. “Bob has been going out with Ann for 10 years.”
9. “I‘ve just finished my homework.”
I hope it’s all clear!