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The Present Perfect Continuous Tense

1. Review: the present perfect tense

The present perfect is for an action done between a past and now.
Action: finished
Time: not finished

To make the present perfect, use:

  • subject + have + past participle

*Past participle = done, gone, seen, eaten etc.

I have lived in Russia.They have been busy this week.
We have stopped talking.Timmy has eaten two dinners today.

‘How long’ can be added by adding ‘for’ or ‘since’.

This changes the present perfect:
Action: not finished
Time: not finished

I have lived in Russia for two years.Nora has been on the bus for 35 minutes.
Marcus has worked at the company since 2004.They have had their dog since May.

2. The present perfect continuous tense

To make the present perfect continuous tense, use:

  • subject + have been + …ing

The present perfect continuous tense is used for:

1. Describing how long something has been happening
2. Stating something that has been happening recently

SubjectHave beenVerb + ingExample sentenceMeaning
Ihave beenworkingI have been working in this organisation for 18 years.How long something has been happening
Youhave beenwatchingYou have been watching TV for 3 hours. You should go outside.How long something has been happening
The photographershave beenwaitingThe photographers have been waiting outside all day.How long something has been happening
Carshave beenspeedingCars have been speeding down this road a lot.Something that has happened recently
Youhave beencomplainingYou have been complaining a lot recently.Something that has happened recently
Theyhave beenfightingDon’t talk to them tonight: they have been fighting.Something that has happened recently

3. State vs action

The present perfect and the present perfect continuous can often do similar jobs:

Present perfectPresent perfect continuous
We have studied English for 3 weeks.We have been studying English for 3 weeks.
They have had a bath so they are clean.They have been bathing so they are clean.

The difference between these are stressing a state vs. stressing an action.

Describing a state

If stressing a state or something that is simply true, use the present perfect (no …ing).

This includes all stative verbs, which are verbs that cannot be started or stopped (know, have, like, love, hate, etc.).

Describing an action

If stressing an action, use the present perfect continuous (…ing).

Stress stateStress action
I have eaten breakfast here since 2002.I have been eating breakfast here since 2002.
I have sat here since 11 o’clock.I have been sitting here since 11 o’clock.
I have eaten this hamburger for 25 minutes.I have been eating this hamburger for 25 minutes.
I have waited here for an hour.I have been waiting here for an hour.

4. Examples of present perfect vs. present perfect continuous

Example sentenceTenseStress
I have lived in Russia for two years.present perfectstate
I have been living in Russia for two years.present perfect continuousaction
Marcus has worked at the company since 2004.present perfectstate
Marcus has been working at the company since 2004.present perfect continuousaction
We have run for 1 hour.present perfectstate
We have been running for 1 hour.present perfect continuousaction
I have eaten lunch with him every Friday since December.present perfectstate
I have been eating lunch with him every Friday since December.present perfect continuousaction

5. Exercises

1. Use the present perfect tense to make 3 sentences saying how long you have done things.

2. Use the present perfect continuous tense to make 3 sentences saying how long you have done things.

3.Which sentences sound right (remember: stative verbs don’t usually take ‘have been …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 sentences do you think sound better?

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

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