There are times the present perfect and the present perfect continuous can both mean the same thing. However, there are other times when it is important to know the difference.

Present Perfect Review

If you use the present perfect, it means you did something between a time and now (action is finished ; time is not finished)

– example

I have studied English
(between the day you were born and now – studying is finished, but life is not finished)

Adding Duration: Present Perfect + since/for

If you add since/for, the action hasn’t stopped / finished

– example

I have studied English for 10 years
(I am still studying – action is continuous, and time is not finished)

Present Perfect Continuous

(continuous = progressive)

have been …ing

The present perfect continuous also means that something has not finished.

– examples

I have been running for 1 hour
(still running)

I have been eating lunch with him every Friday since December
(still eating lunch with him every Friday)

I have been trying to learn English for 3 months
(still trying)

However it is not exactly the same as present perfect + since/for

Active Verbs vs. Stative Verbs

To know when to use the different tenses, first one has to know that:

some verbs are active
(things you actually do; you can start, and you can stop)

– examples
eat; walk; run; try; study; fight; watch

some verbs are stative
(things that describe what things are like, or are just true; you cannot start or stop)

– examples:
be; know; have; own; remember; believe; wish

Stative verbs do not usually take -ing, so do not usually use the continuous (-ing) tenses.

Because stative verbs do not usually take -ing, they use the present perfect + since/for.

– examples:

I have known him for 10 years (yes!)
I have been knowing him for 10 years (no no no)

I have had short hair since Tuesday (good)
I have been having short hair since Tuesday (terrible)

I have liked her for 6 months (fine)
I have been liking her for 6 months (not fine)

Active verbs can use both present perfect + since/for, and present perfect continuous

I have eaten breakfast here since 2002 (OK)
I have been eating breakfast here since 2002. (OK)

I have sat here since 11 o’clock. (OK)
I have been sitting here since 11 o’clock. (OK)

The difference is in stress (what area you think is most important).
– If you use the present perfect continuous (have been …ing) it stresses the action.
– If you use the present perfect + since/for, it describes the situation (what is true)

Most of the time people use ‘have been …ing’ for active verbs, because they want to stress the action.

– examples

1.
I have been eating this hamburger for 25 minutes
(stress: eating, and eating, and eating; can I stop now?)

I have eaten this hamburger for 25 minutes
(it has been this way for a long time, and now I am bored)

2.
I have been waiting here for an hour
(waiting, and waiting, and waiting; please hurry up!)

I have waited here for an hour
(it has been this way for a long time)

Exercises

1. Make 3 sentences saying how long you have done 3 stative verbs using the ‘present perfect + for/since’ structure (for example: I have known him since we were children).

2. Make 3 sentences saying how long you have done 3 active verbs. They can be in the present perfect or present perfect continuous (although most use present perfect continuous) (for example: I have been playing basketball since I was 10 years old / I have played basketball since I was 10 years old).

3.Which sentences sound right (remember: stative verbs don’t usually take -ing)?

(i)She has owned the house since last year.
She has been owning the house since last year.
(ii) He has had those same shoes for 35 years.
He has been having those shoes for 35 years.
(iii) I have been in Beijing since Tuesday.
I have been being in Beijing since Tuesday

4.Which do you think sounds better (they are all active verbs, but remember: is the stress the action, or the situation)?

(i) I have been running for 20 minutes.
I have run for 20 minutes.
(ii) I have been watching TV for 3 hours.
I have watched TV for 3 hours.
(iii) I have been reading this book since January.
I have read this book since January.