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Present Perfect Tenses: Simple vs. Continuous – Video

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by Gina Mares on July 21, 2021 , Comments Off on Present Perfect Tenses: Simple vs. Continuous – Video

In this lesson, you can learn about the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous verb forms.

What’s the difference between ‘I have done’ and ‘I have been doing?’ When should you use the present perfect continuous? You’ll see the answers to these questions in this class.

QUIZ: Present Perfect Tenses: Simple vs. Continuous

Now, test your knowledge of what you learned in the lesson by trying this quiz.

The questions follow the order of the lesson and get harder as you go! You can get help with some of them if you press ‘Hint’.

You will get your score at the end, when you can click on ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers, and some explanations.

1. How to Form the Present Perfect Continuous

Liam: Hey! Sorry I’m late…

Kasia: Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you all morning!

L: Have you been waiting long?

K: Not so long. I just didn’t know where you were.

L: I’ve been preparing for this lesson for the last few hours. I just lost track of time!

K: So, let’s start!

Studying and reading at a table outside

Look at three sentences you heard in the dialogue.

  1. I’ve ________ trying to call you all morning.
  2. ________ you been waiting long?
  3. ________ been preparing for this lesson for the last few hours.

Do you know how to complete them?

Look at the full sentences.

  1. I’ve been trying to call you all morning.
  2. Have you been waiting long?
  3. I’ve been preparing for this lesson for the last few hours.

These all use the same verb form – the present perfect continuous. Some questions. One: how do you make positive and negative sentences, and questions?

Do you need a review of sentence structure? Watch this OOE lesson: Grammar Lesson #1 – Improve Sentence Structure.

Two: what does this verb form mean?

We’ll spend the rest of this lesson answering question two, but let’s look at the first question now.

Form the present perfect continuous with three things. First, use ‘have’ or ‘has’.

Then, add ‘been’.

Then, add an -ing verb.

Let’s try it now. Look at three sentences. Can you make them present perfect continuous? Pause the video and say the sentences out loud, using the present perfect continuous verb form.

  1. I (work) all morning.
  2. She (wait) there for hours.
  3. It (rain).

Could you do it? Let’s check the answers.

  1. I have been working all morning.
  2. She has been waiting there for hours.
  3. It has been raining.

Did you get them right?

Next, to make a negative, just add ‘not’ after ‘have’ or ‘has’. For example:

  • I have not been working all morning.
  • She has not been waiting there for hours.

Actually, we’re emphasising the word ‘not’ so you can hear it, but in natural speech, you should use contractions, like ‘haven’t’ and ‘hasn’t’.

  • I haven’t been working all morning.
  • She hasn’t been waiting there for hours.

Review with this lesson: English Contractions – Pronunciation & Comprehension.

What about the last sentence? Can you make it negative? Make the negative form and say it out loud. Use a contraction.

The answer is ‘it hasn’t been raining.’ Did you get it?

Finally, make questions in the present perfect continuous by moving ‘have’ or ‘has’ before the subject.

For example:

  • Has she been waiting there for hours?
  • Has it been raining?

These rules will help you to form the present perfect continuous verb tense. But, how do you use it? What does it mean? Let’s start to answer this question.

2. Using the Present Perfect Continuous: Linking Past and Present

Kasia: How long have you been doing this?

Liam: This? You mean, making this video?

K: I mean teaching. How long have you been teaching?

L: Ooh… For over ten years now.

L: Should we take a break? We’ve been working for hours.

K: Sure. Want to get a doughnut or something from the bakery?

L: Hmmm… Better not. I’ve been trying to cut down on how much sugar I eat.

K: Well, how about a coffee, instead?

L: Good idea!

Coffee shop

Look at four examples of the present perfect continuous which you heard.

  1. How long have you been doing this?
  2. How long have you been teaching?
  3. We’ve been working for hours.
  4. I’ve been trying to cut down on how much sugar I eat.

Can you see what connects them?

In all four sentences, you’re talking about something which started in the past, and continues in the present.

This can be a continuous action; something which started before now, and continued without a break until now.

For example, if you say ‘We’ve been working for hours’, you mean that we started working several hours ago, and we’ve continued working from then until now.

You can also use the present perfect continuous for repeated or regular actions. For example, if I say ‘I’ve been teaching for over ten years now’, I mean that this is something I’ve been doing regularly, starting over ten years ago and continuing now.

So, to use the present perfect continuous in this way, three things need to be true.

One: the action must have started in the past.
Two: the action must be something continuous, or repeated regularly.
Three: you must still be doing this thing now, in the present.

Let’s practise! Look at three questions.

  1. What have you been doing in the last two hours?
  2. Have you been watching any interesting series on TV recently?
  3. How have you been spending your free time this week?

Pause the video and try to answer the questions, using the present perfect continuous. Say your answers out loud. If it’s difficult, repeat your answers until you can produce them fluently. Try it now!

Could you do it? Was it easy or difficult?

Of course, there are many possibilities, but let’s look at three sample answers.

For question one, you could say ‘I’ve been cleaning my room and doing a little bit of English study.’

For question two, you could say ‘I’ve been watching a show called Dark on Netflix.’

For question three, you could say ‘So far this week, I’ve mostly been hanging out at home and reading. I have a good book and I want to finish it!’

This is the most basic way to use the present perfect continuous. But, there’s another important use of this verb tense – let’s look now.

3. Using the Present Perfect Continuous: Explaining Present Results

Liam: What happened to your hands? They’re filthy!

Kasia: I’ve been working on my bike.

L: Well, go and wash them! I don’t want you getting everything dirty.

K: Why are you in such a bad mood?

L: I’ve been working on my website…

K: Not going well?

L: No!

Computer problems

Look at the first two lines from the dialogue.

A question: is she working on her bike now?

The answer is ‘no’. So, why use the present perfect continuous here? The action has finished; it’s in the past. Shouldn’t we use a past verb tense?

You use the present perfect continuous here for a continuous action which finished recently and which has visible results now.

Or, more simply: use the present perfect continuous to explain why things look they way they look now.

For example:

  • Why are you so sweaty? I’ve been jogging.
  • Why is the kitchen in such a mess? I’ve been cooking all afternoon.
  • You look tired. Yeah, I’ve been working too much this week.

OK, now you know the two basic ways to use the present perfect continuous. Next, another important question: how do you know when to use the present perfect continuous, and when to use the simple form?

4.Present Perfect Simple vs Continuous

Kasia: Did you hear? Jen’s getting married!

Liam: Really? That’s good news, I guess.

K: ‘I guess’?

L: Well, how long have they been together? I last saw her three months ago, and she didn’t say anything about being in a relationship.

K: I think they’ve been going out for a couple of months.

L: That’s not long…

K: Maybe not, but I think they’ve known each other for longer. Anyway, she seems really happy. She’s so excited about the wedding – she’s been talking about it non-stop for weeks.

L: I bet.

Let’s look at two sentences you heard.

  1. They’ve been going out for a couple of months.
  2. They’ve known each other for longer.

These are describing similar situations. So, why use different verb forms?

The verb in the first sentence – ‘go out’ – is an action. But, in the second sentence, the verb – ‘know’ – describes a state, not an action.

What does this mean? ‘Knowing’ someone is a state. It’s not something you do. If you know someone, then you know them. You know them today, and you’ll know them tomorrow, too.

State verbs include ‘be’, ‘like’, ‘believe’, ‘understand’ or ‘seem’. Many verbs which relate to feelings or mental states are state verbs.

State verbs aren’t generally used in continuous forms. If you’re using a state verb, like ‘be’, you should use the present perfect simple tense, not the continuous.

Let’s test this quickly. Look at two more sentences from the dialogue.

  1. How long have they (be) together?
  2. She (talk) about it non-stop for weeks.

Do these verbs refer to states, or actions? Should they be present perfect simple, or continuous? Try to remember, or work out the answers! Pause the video if you need more time to think.

Let’s check.

  1. How long have they been together?
  2. She has been talking about it non-stop for weeks.

‘Be’ is a state verb, so it should be present perfect simple.

‘Talk’ is an action – it’s something you do. So, it should be present perfect continuous here.

There’s one exception to this rule: ‘want’ is a state verb, but you can use it in the present perfect continuous. For example:

  • I’ve been wanting to see this film for ages!
  • Actually, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this for some time.

You could also use the simple form here – I’ve wanted – it doesn’t matter which you use.

In this section, you’ve learned a basic way to tell the difference between the simple and continuous present perfect forms.

In our final section, you’ll see one more important difference between these two verb tenses.

5 Focus on Results vs Focus on Process

Liam: Haven’t you started cooking yet? Everyone will be here in less than an hour!

Kasia: I have started… I mean, I’ve chopped all the vegetables.

L: But, the stew will take at least two hours to cook. There’s no way it’ll be ready in time!

K: Well, you could have helped me… I’ve been doing everything myself, and it’s a lot of work.

L: Yeah, you know what else is a lot of work? Cleaning the whole house! I’ve been vacuuming, mopping, dusting… I’ve cleaned both bathrooms. I haven’t just been sitting around all day.

K: OK, well, have you finished? Can you give me a hand now?

L: Sure, I’m free now. What needs doing?

K: Actually, you know what? We’ve run out of milk. Could you pop out and get some?

L: Yeah, OK.

Look at a sentence you heard.

  • I’ve chopped all the vegetables.

Let’s add another one.

  • I’ve chopped all the vegetables.
  • I’ve been chopping the vegetables.

These are both possible, but they have slightly different meanings. Can you explain the difference?

The first sentence, with the present perfect simple, focuses on the *result* of the action. Using the simple form shows that you have finished this and there is a result – in this case, the vegetables are chopped and ready to go in the stew.

The second sentence, with the present perfect continuous, focuses on the *process*. If you say ‘I’ve been chopping the vegetables’, there’s no clear result. Using the continuous form simply shows that you’ve spent time on this thing, and you’re probably not finished.

Let’s practise this point. Look at four sentences.

  1. I (call) five times, but there was no answer.
  2. We (drive) for hours, and we’re still miles away.
  3. I (watch) a lot of nature documentaries recently.
  4. I (made) a soup for lunch.

Here’s a task for you: in these sentences, can you use the present perfect simple, or the continuous, or both? If both are possible, is the meaning the same, or different?

Pause the video and think about your ideas. Take your time! Start again when you’re ready.

OK? Let’s look together.

In number one, only the simple form is possible.

This is because there’s a number – you’ve called five times – which shows a clear result.

In sentence two, both are possible, but the continuous is more likely. There’s no difference in meaning.

This is because you still haven’t arrived, so there’s no result. Probably, you want to focus on the process, meaning how much time you’ve spent driving.

In sentence three, both are possible, with little difference in meaning. This is because you can focus on the result – you’ve finished watching many documentaries – or you can focus on the process – you’ve spent time watching nature documentaries. Confusing? Don’t worry about it. Here, the basic meaning is the same whichever form you use.

In sentence four, both are possible, but here the meaning would be different.

If you say ‘I’ve made a soup for lunch’, then you’ve finished cooking, and the soup is ready to eat.

If you use the continuous form, then you probably haven’t finished. You’ve spent some time cooking, but there’s probably no result – meaning no soup.

Maybe you’re thinking: why ‘probably?’ It’s a good question!

It’s because the sentence just doesn’t contain that information. If you say ‘I’ve been making a soup for lunch,’ there’s no information about whether you’ve finished or not.

But, if you had finished, you’d almost certainly use the present perfect simple – ‘I’ve made a soup.’ So, using the continuous strongly suggests that you haven’t finished.

That’s all. Thanks for watching!

Gina MaresPresent Perfect Tenses: Simple vs. Continuous – Video

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