The present perfect continuous

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The present perfect continuousThe present perfect continuous. Present perfect tenses are used to talk about situations that connect the past to now. We looked at the present perfect in this lesson, and compared the present perfect and the past simple in this lesson. Now we’ll move on to the continuous form of the present perfect .

As with all continuous tenses, the present perfect continuous talks about an action in progress. Here are some examples:

For example:

  • I have been running.
  • Have you been running?
  • He has been studying.
  • Has he been studying?

This tense is formed using have / has + been + [verb] + ing

There are 3 important rules you need to know about when to use the present perfect simple or continuous

1. Using present perfect continuous to focus on a recent but not necessarily finished activity

Look at these examples.


  • I have been reading that book you gave me. (continuous)
  • I have read the book you gave me. (simple)

In the present perfect continuous sentence, the person is focusing on the recent action of reading. Using present perfect continuous does not tell us that the reading is actually finished – the person wants to emphasise their recent activities.

In the present perfect simple sentence, the person is focusing on the recently completed activity. Using the present perfect simple tells us that the reading is finished with a present result (that there’s nothing left to read in the book).

2. Using continuous form to focus on the duration of a recent activity (how long) instead of quantity (how much)

Compare these two sentences.

  • I have been reading that book all afternoon. (continuous)
  • I have read four chapters of that book. (simple)

In the continuous sentence, the person is focusing on the recent action of reading and the time they have spent doing it. The continuous form does not tell us whether the reading is actually finished; the person wants to emphasise their recent activities and the length of time spent doing it.

In the present perfect simple sentence, the person is focusing on the recently completed activity and quantity completed. Using present perfect tells us that they have finished four chapters of their book.

Remember that what we choose the grammar based on what we are focusing on. Here are two more examples for this rule:

  • I have studied English for 4 years (the speaker wants to focus on how many years have been spent)
  • I have been studying English for 4 years. (the speaker wants to focus on how long they have spent, regardless of whether it is finished)

3. Using continuous form where a recent activity is more temporary

Compare these two sentences.

  • I usually work in Auckland, but for the last month I have been working in Wellington. (continuous)
  • I have worked for the same company since I left school. (simple)

In the present perfect continuous sentence, the person is focusing on the recent action of working in Wellington, indicating that this is more temporary.


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