Present Perfect Continuous Explained

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The Present Perfect Continuous seems a little bit complicated. But in fact, there is nothing complicated here. No need to be afraid of the Present Perfect Continuous! 🙂 Especially if you already understand the Present Perfect and the Present Continuous.

Because the Present Perfect Continuous combines the qualities of the tenses of the Perfect group and the Continuous group.

Why do we need this tense?

The Present Perfect Continuous describes an action that began in the past, lasted for some time, and ended before the moment of speaking, or has not yet ended and still continues.

John has been running ten kilometers already.

This sentence means that John started running in the past. He was running for some time, he run a distance of ten kilometers. John may still be running now. Maybe John will run for another five kilometers.

We can also use the Present Perfect Continuous if John stopped running in some recent past. In this case, we use the Present Perfect Continuous to emphasize the duration of the process.

Imagine that John comes home, he is sweating and he is tired. Jessica asks John:

Jessica: John where have you been? Why are you so tired and sweaty?
John: I have been running ten kilometers!

John isn’t running now, it happened in the past. John can also answer the question with the Present Perfect:

I have run ten kilometers.

But if John wants to emphasize the duration of the process so that Jessica understands why John is so tired and wet, then John can use the Present Perfect Continuous:

I have been running for ten kilometers.

We use the Present Perfect Continuous to emphasize not only completeness but also duration. We use the Present Perfect to focus only on the completeness of the process.

Even if John is talking about an action that has ended in the recent past, the Present Perfect Continuous refers to the present. Because the Present Perfect Continuous shows the result of what happened in the past.

John has been running ten kilometers.

Take a look at the word has in this sentence.

John HAS been running…

Has means that John now has the result that he run ten kilometers. It is has that makes the Present Perfect Continuous relevant to the present.

If we use had instead of has this result refers to the past. If we use will have then the result refers to the future. But we use has. Despite the fact that John may no longer run now and will not continue to run further.

Look again at two sentences:

The Present Perfect: John has run in the park this morning.


The Present Perfect Continuous: John has been running in the park this morning.

We can use both of these options, they mean the same thing.

But if we use the Present Perfect Continuous and not the Present Perfect, we focus on the duration of this action. The Present Perfect emphasizes the completeness of the action. Its result. Not its process or duration.

Therefore, the main difference between the Present Perfect Continuous and the Present Perfect can be seen in the main verbs that we use in these two examples:

  • Run
  • Running

Run is the third form of the verb run (this is not a regular verb, so its third form looks like the first). The third form of the verb shows us the completeness of the action.

Running is a verb with an -ing ending, and the ing ending emphasizes the duration of the action.

We use -ing verbs to emphasize duration. We also use the third form of the verb to be been. Been expresses completeness.

been + ing = completed continuous action.

Been shows what has already happened. -ing shows that the action lasted for some time, it was in progress, it was happening. Together, it means that the continuous action is already completed. This is the main function of the Present Perfect Continuous.

Take a look at another way to understand the Present Perfect Continuous. To do this, you need to look at the Present Continuous:

John is running.

This means that John is running right now.

Now let’s say that this whole process lasted from the past to the present. For this, we need the third form of the main verb. But our main verb “run” already has one change, because we added the -ing ending to it. Therefore, we change not the main verb but the verb to be. The third form of the verb to be is been. And this is what we get:

John has been running.

See? We show completeness by transforming to be from is to been. We show the duration with the -ing ending of the main verb. It’s that simple!

How to form sentences

The Present Perfect Continuous is formed a little more complicated than the tenses of other groups. Let’s take a closer look at what the Present Perfect Continuous consists of.

The Present Perfect Continuous is formed with the help of three main components, each of which plays its particular role:

  1. The verb to have. The form of the verb to have depends on the subject:
  • I have
  • He has
  • She has
  • It has
  • We have
  • They have
  • You have
  1. The third form of the verb to be is been. We use been to indicate the completeness of an action. Attention, we use been regardless of who is the subject (with all persons).
  • I have been
  • He has been
  • She has been
  • It has been
  • We have been
  • They have been
  • You have been
  1. The main verb with the -ing ending. It is the main verb with the -ing ending that expresses the duration of the action.
  • painting
  • waiting
  • sitting
  • coming
  • playing
  • staying
  • reading
  • leaving

If we combine these three parts with a subject we get the usual the Present Perfect Continuous sentence:

John has been working all day!

Let’s see how we use these three components and the adjective in affirmative (positive), interrogative (question), and negative sentences.

How to form Affirmative (Positive) Sentences in Present Perfect Continuous

To form an affirmative (positive) sentence, we put the subject first. After the subject, we put the verb to have (have or has). Then the third form of the verb to be been. Then the main verb with the -ing ending.

Subject (I, you, they, John, friends, dog) + have/has + been + main verb with the -ing ending (running, looking, reading) + rest of the sentence.

I have been waiting seven years to tell you the truth!

How to form Interrogative (Question) Sentences in Present Perfect Continuous

To form an interrogative (question) sentence, we put at the very beginning have or has. Then the subject. Then the third form of the verb to be been Then the main verb with the -ing ending.

Have/has + Subject (I, you, they, John, friends, dog) + been + main verb with the -ing ending (running, looking, reading) + rest of the sentence.

Have you been waiting for me?

Note that to ask a question we only put have/has before the subject. It is the verb to have that is an auxiliary verb. We do not put have been/has been before the subject.

Incorrect: Have been you waiting for me?
Correct: Have you been waiting for me?

How to ask Special Wh-Questions

A Wh-Question is a question that has additional words we add to find out more information.

We form a Wh-Question just like a General (Yes/No) Questions in the Present Perfect Continuous, only at the beginning of the structure we put a question word or phrase:

Question word or phrase + have/has + subject (I, you, they, John, friends, dog) + been + main verb with the -ing ending (running, looking, reading) + rest of the sentence.

How long have you been driving this car?

How to Answer questions

How do we form answers to questions in the Present Perfect Continuous?

Short positive answer:

Yes + subject (I, you, they, John, friends, etc.) + have/has

Question: Have you been drivin all this time?
Answer: Yes, I have.

Short negative answer:

No + subject (I, you, they, John, friends, etc.) + have/has + not

Question: Have you been driving?
Answer: No, I have not.

In a full positive answer, we add part of the question to the construction, but in an affirmative (positive) form:

Yes + subject (I, you, she, John, friends, etc.) + have/has + main part of the question in positive.

Question: Have you been driving?
Answer: Yes, I have been driving.

In a full negative answer, we add negative No (at the beginning of the sentence) and not (after have / has):

No + subject (I, you, she, John, friends, etc.) + have/has + not + main part of the question in negative.

Question: Have you been driving?
Answer: No, I have not been driving.

How to form Negative Sentences in Present Perfect Continuous

To form a negative sentence, we start with the subject. Then we put the right form of the verb to have and the negative not. Then the third form of the verb to be been. Then we put the main verb with the -ing ending.

Subject (I, you, they, John, friends, dog) + have/has + not + been + main verb with the -ing ending (running, looking, reading) + the rest of the sentence.

I have not been running ever since I injured my leg …

Note: Pay attention, we add the negative not after have/has. We don’t add not after been.

Correct: I have not been…
Incorrect: I have been not…

What is the sort form of will have?

In the Present Perfect Continuous, we contract the verb to have in affirmative (positive) sentences and the verb to have and the negative not in negative sentences.

FullShort
I have beenI’ve been
He has beenHe’s been
She has beenShe’s been
It has beenIt’s been
We have beenWe’ve been
They have beenThey’ve been
You have beenYou’ve been

Contractions in Positive sentences:

  • I have been – I’ve been
  • He has been – He’s been
  • She has been – She’s been
  • It has been – It’s been
  • We have been – We’ve been
  • They have been – They’ve been
  • You have been – You’ve been
FullShort
I have not beenI haven’t been
He has not beenHe hasn’t been
She has not beenShe hasn’t been
It has not beenIt hasn’t been
We have not beenWe haven’t been
They have not beenThey haven’t been
You have not beenYou haven’t been

Contractions in negatives:

  • I have not been – I haven’t been
  • He has not been – He hasn’t been
  • She has not been – She hasn’t been
  • It has not been – It hasn’t been
  • We have not been – We haven’t been
  • They have not been – They haven’t been
  • You have not been – You haven’t been

When and why we use Present Perfect Continuous?

We use the Present Perfect Continuous in the following cases:

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous to describe an action that started in the past, lasted for some time, and continues in the present moment.

We have been running our own company for several years.

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous to describe an action that started in the past, lasted for some time, and ended before the moment of speaking.

We use the Present Perfect Continuous in this case if the result of this action is visible or related to the present.

This guy has been speaking non-stop! I am happy he is silent now!

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous to express dissatisfaction with someone’s actions.

In this case, we may not know exactly when and under what circumstances such an action happened and how long it lasted.

In this case, the Present Perfect Continuous expresses our anger, discontent, annoyance.

Someone has been in my room again!

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous to make conclusions based on what we saw, heard, or learned.

Often, such a conclusion has a negative meaning of annoyance, criticism, or discontent.

Who has been spilling the tea on my carpet?

Look at him, what a lazy boy! He has been doing nothing all day!

Attention: remember that we also use the Present Perfect in similar cases. The difference between the Present Perfect and the Present Perfect Continuous is that with the help of the Present Perfect we express dissatisfaction with a one-time action. With the Present Perfect Continuous, we express our dissatisfaction with an action that happens all the time.

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous to express repetitive actions that occur as a continuous process.

Look at her! She has been baking these pies one by one all day!

Attention: If we want to tell how many times the action took place and what result was obtained, then we need to use not the Present Perfect Continuous, but the Present Perfect.

I have washed the car three times today!

  1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous when answering the “how long” question.

Question: How long have you been driving?
Answer: I have been driving all day long!

How to form questions with how long

We use the Present Perfect Continuous to form a question with how long.

This is a very useful question that we use to find out how long (over what period of time) someone did something or something happened.

We form such a question as an ordinary question, only at the beginning of the question we put “how long“.

How long + have/has + Subject (I, you, they, John, friends, dog) + been + main verb with the -ing ending (running, watching, reading) + rest of the sentence.

How long have you been dressing like a clown?

How long have you been fighting him?

Present Perfect Continuous and “for”

We use for to indicate how long an action takes.

I’ve been running for half an hour.

John has been reading for two hours.

We have been working on the project for two days.

Never forget to use for before specifying how long an action takes place.

Incorrect: John has been reading two hours.
Correct: John has been reading for two hours.

Adverbs of Time lately and recently

We use Adverbs of Time lately and recently to show the connection of the action described with the help of the Present Perfect Continuous with the present.

We use the Present Perfect Continuous when:

  1. The action is connected with the moment of speaking so that we can see the result of this action.
  2. The action still takes place at the moment of speaking.
  3. The action ended before the moment of speaking.

Words such as lately and recently also associate events with the moment of speaking. Therefore, we can use these words to describe events that are not related to the moment of speaking by a visible result, do not occur at the moment of speaking, and did not end before the very moment of speaking.

She has been reading books recently.

Louise has been complaining a lot lately.

Present Perfect Continuous and Past Simple in complex sentences with since

We use the Present Perfect Continuous together with the Past Simple in complex sentences with the since.

We use the Past Simple in a relative clause that starts with since. In the main part, we use the Present Perfect Continuous.

The Past Simple part of the sentence serves as the point from which the action described in the Present Perfect Continuous takes place. We show that the action (the Present Perfect Continuous) lasted from the moment indicated with the Past Simple.

The Present Perfect Continuous + since + the Past Simple.

He has been feeling lots of pain since he got in the accident.

I have been running the entire bar by myself since I started the business.

Differents between Present Perfect Continuous and Present Perfect

Many English learners confuse the Present Perfect Continuous and the Present Perfect. Let’s see what is the difference between them.

We use the Present Perfect to express an action that happened in the past, but the result of this action is related to the present. Using the Present Perfect, we focus on the result.

John has done his homework.

The main thing in this sentence is the result that John has.

Now look at this sentence:

John has been doing his homework for 2 hours.

In this sentence, the main thing is no longer the result, but the fact that by now (by the moment of speaking), John has been doing his homework for 2 hours!

Perhaps John has already finished doing his homework, perhaps John is still sitting there doing his homework. It does not matter. Because when we use the Present Perfect Continuous we focus not on the result, but on the process of the action that happened.

In other words, if you want to focus on the result, on the fact that something has been done or already happened, then use the Present Perfect:

John has washed the car.

If you want to emphasize that the action was in progress, then use the Present Perfect Continuous. The Present Perfect Continuous has the -ing verb. The -ing verb puts the emphasis on duration:

John has been washing the car for two hours.

Example of a sentence in the Present Perfect Continuous, a hand of a man washing a car with a rag.
Example of the Present Perfect Continuous.

Difference between Present Perfect Continuous and Present Continuous

Now let’s take a look at the differences between
the Present Continuous and the Present Perfect Continuous.

The Present Continuous describes what is happening in the present. What happening right at the moment of speaking.

The dog is running around the yard.

This means that the dog is running right when we are talking about it. Of course, this dog may have been running before the moment of speaking and will run after. It does not matter.

The main thing is that when we use the Present Continuous we focus on exactly what is happening at the moment of speaking. Not what it was before or will be after that.

The Present Perfect Continuous describes an action that began in the past, lasted for some time and now it may have already ended, or it may still continue:

The dog has been running around the yard for half an hour.

We do not know if this dog is running right now and whether this dog will continue to run. Therefore, the Present Perfect Continuous focuses on the action that took place before the moment of speaking and lasted for some time.

To understand what tense to use, you need to understand exactly what you want to say.

If you want to say that the dog is running right now, and this is the most important thing you want to say, then use the Present Continuous:

The dog is running around the yard.

If you want to say that the dog has been running around the yard for 10 minutes, you want to focus on the duration of this action (for example, you are surprised that the dog has been running for that period of time) then use the Present Perfect Continuous.

The dog has been running around the yard for half an hour.

Difference between Present Perfect Continuous and Past Perfect Continuous

The Past Perfect Continuous is from the same group as the Present Perfect Continuous. This is its twin brother. But we use the Past Perfect Continuous to describe past actions. Therefore, English learners often confuse these two tenses.

We use the Present Perfect Continuous when we mean that an action that began in the past and lasted for some time is associated with the present. Maybe it ended just before the moment of speaking. Maybe it is still going on.

When we use the Past Perfect Continuous, we mean that the action began in the past, lasted for a while, and ended or continues at some other point in the PAST.

This is the main difference. The Past Perfect Continuous expresses what was in the past and related to the past. The Present Perfect Continuous expresses what began in the past and ended before the present or is still continuing at the present moment.

We use the Past Perfect Continuous when we have some other event in the past. Then we can show up to what moment the action took place.

We can use the Present Perfect Continuous without another event because such an event can be the moment of speaking itself.

I have been reading this book since the morning.

This is the Present Perfect Continuous. This sentence means that we are saying what happened before the moment of speaking (which is the present).

Before I went for a walk I had been reading this book for two hours.

This is the Past Perfect Continuous. This sentence means that two actions took place in the past. One of them, started earlier than the other, lasted for some time, and ended before the second action.

More examples:

Before they broke up Julia had been dating him for a couple of months.

Julia has been dating him for a couple of months.

Example of a sentence  in present perfect continuous, a guy and a girl kiss in the river bank at sunset, text Julia has been dating him for a couple of months

Difference between Present Perfect Continuous and Past Continuous

Let’s take a look at the difference between the Present Perfect Continuous and the Past Continuous.

The Past Continuous describes an action that was in progress at a particular moment in the past.

When my mother came home I was reading a book.

The Present Perfect Continuous describes an action that began in the past, lasted for some time, and ended or did not end at the moment of speaking.

I have been reading a book since my mom came home.

Take a look at two examples:

John was driving at six yesterday.

John has been driving since six o’clock.

In the first sentence, we use the Past Continuous. The first sentence only means that John was driving at six o’clock yesterday evening. This sentence has nothing to do with the present time. We are just talking about what John did yesterday at the specified moment. He was driving.

In the second sentence, we use the Present Perfect Continuous. The second sentence is related to the present. The second sentence means that John has been driving since six o’clock. And maybe he is still on the way or has already arrived at the moment (which does not matter).

In the first example, there is no connection with the present. It’s just an event from the past.

In the second example, there is a connection with the present.

How to use Non-Continuous Verbs

English has a special group of verbs. These verbs are called Non-Continuous Verbs. These are the verbs that mean:

  • States.
  • Thought processes.
  • Feelings.

These verbs include:

  • to want
  • to wish
  • to see
  • to love
  • to remember

We almost never use such verbs with the Present Perfect Continuous. Because usually, we cannot add the -ing ending to such verbs. Because we cannot see or measure the duration of these verbs.

Let’s take a look at the sentence:

John has been running five kilometers.

Running is a process that we can emphasize with the -ing ending. We can see its duration. We can imagine such a process as RUNNING.

But we cannot imagine:

I have been willing

John has been loving

Jessica has been wishing

Because these verbs express states, feelings, or thought processes. We cannot imagine these verbs in action. We either want something or we don’t. Love or not. Either we understand or we don’t.

John has been wanting to eat pizza for three hours.

See how ridiculous the sentence looks?

This is why we usually do not use the Present Perfect Continuous for such verbs. Instead, we use the Present Perfect or any other tenses that help to express the meaning of sentences correctly.

John has seen Jessica before.

I have remembered the man standing in front of me.

Sometimes we use Stative verbs (non-progressive) with the -ing ending in some expressions. In this case, we use the -ing ending because we want to specifically emphasize some feeling or state.

For example, when we want to emphasize an action emotionally. Most often, in such cases, we use verbs such as:

  • to wish
  • to want
  • to mean

I have been wishing for things all people wish for.

Infographic of sentences on how not to use non-continuous verbs as continuous verbs

Stative verbs

In English, there is a group of verbs that describe actions that usually are continuous (and usually take a long time). For example:

  • to study
  • to work
  • to live
    Etc.

These verbs mean continuous actions themselves, so it doesn’t matter if we use them in the Present Perfect or the Present Perfect Continuous.

I have worked here for five years.
I have been working here for five years.

I have lived in this city since 1998.
I have been living in this city since 1998.

I have studied for two months in a new school.
I have been studying for two months in a new school.

These sentences mean the same. The meaning of the sentences does not change whether we use the Present Perfect or the Present Perfect Continuous with such verbs.

Because the verbs Study, Work, Live mean continuous action itself. We do not need to emphasize these processes additionally with the -ing ending.

But there is one interesting case when we prefer to use the Present Perfect Continuous instead of the Present Perfect!

When we want to emphasize that the situation we are describing is temporary. In this case, we can intentionally use the Present Perfect Continuous with Stative verbs.

In this case, the -ing ending emphasizes the duration of the verb. So we emphasize that the state that the verb expresses is temporary.

I have been working here for five years, but I was offered a new job.

I have been living in this city since 1998, but we are moving to Paris soon.

I have been studying for two months in a new school, but soon I will be back to my old school.

Infographic shows that we can use present perfect and present perfect continuous with the same meaning in some case

Use of “Yet”

Remember, when we use the Present Perfect Continuous, we most often mean that the action expressed has a connection with the present.

For example:

  1. If the action completed in the recent past, but the result of the action is visible:

See how much the snow here! This is not surprising because it has been snowing for five hours.

  1. If the action continues in the present:

I have already been running five kilometers and continue to run more!

  1. Or the action ended just before the moment of speaking:

Huh, it’s time to stop the reading for today! I have been reading since morning.

If the result of the action is not visible, not clear, or the action ended long ago and has nothing to do with the moment of speaking, then it is better to use the Present Perfect instead of the Present Perfect Continuous.

Markers of Present Perfect Continuous

The Present Perfect Continuous markers are words and phrases that indicate when an action began or how long it lasted. These are words and phrases like:

  • for half an hour
  • for 2 hours
  • for 5 days
  • for 2 years
  • for 3 weeks
  • for 5 months
  • lately
  • recently
  • all day long
  • all morning
  • the whole morning
  • all evening
  • since 5 o’clock
  • since yesterday
  • since last month
  • since 2005
  • the whole evening
  • all night long
Infographic of Present Perfect Continuous markers, words such as lately, recently, all night long, for five days, etc.
Present Perfect Continuous Markers

Examples of Present Perfect Continuous

Take a look at examples of the Present Perfect Continuous. Think about the rules we use in these examples:

Victor and I have been thinking to go to Paris.

She has been working for the company since 2005.

We have been speaking of your talents.

Tom has been reading a book all afternoon.

It has been raining for seven full days.

Those guys have been working together for a long time.

I have been looking for you forever.

So, tell me, what have you been working on?

You look weird. What have you been doing?

This guy has been speaking non-stop.

He has been working on a drawing all day.

How long have you been fighting him?

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