As with all the tenses, we tend to study the ‘simple’ version first, and then move on to the continuous. We’ll do the same here, so make sure you’re comfortable with the present perfect simple before tackling the ‘ing’ version. Check out our other blog posts to help you here!
Now, what is the present perfect continuous and how is it formed?
We use two elements:
‘Have/has been’ and the present participle of the main verb – the base+ing.
So, already it’s a little different from the ‘simple’ version of this tense. Let’s see some examples:
‘She has been listening to music for two hours.’
‘He has been working for that company since 2010.’
‘They have been sleeping all night.’
All of these actions are either JUST finished, or they are unfinished. Usually we know the answer to this from the context of the situation. For example, if you call someone and they wake up and say, ‘I’ve been sleeping for hours,’ then of course you know that it’s just finished. But it might be that you call someone and somebody else answers his or her phone – explaining that he/she has been sleeping for hours. Obviously it not finished. So, we use the context of the situation to learn more details here. No need for specific grammar to tell us in this case.
First, let’s look at the negative form:
‘She has not (hasn’t) been listening to music for two hours.’
‘He has not (hasn’t) been working for that company since 2010.’
‘They have not (haven’t) been sleeping all night.’
To form the negative, we simply insert ‘not’ and combine it with have/has to make the shortened version – haven’t/hasn’t.
Remember – always try to learn how to use the shortened versions because it will help you to sound more like a natural, native speaker!
Now let’s take a look at how to ask a question in this tense:
‘Has he been working as a teacher?’
‘Have you been reading that book I recommended?’
‘Have they been watching the new series on Netflix?’
To form the question, we switch the first two words around so that ‘have/has’ is the first word, followed by the subject, followed by ‘been’ and then the present participle of the main verb. Be careful not to put ‘been’ beside have/has here – it is a common mistake to forget to use the subject.
When to use it?
Okay, so now we know how to make it, but I bet you’re still asking yourself when we use it, and how it is different from the present perfect simple?
Present perfect continuous, unlike simple, is concerned more with the process of something rather than the result. It is used to emphasize the duration or continuous course of an action.
‘I have been watching a movie.’
This isn’t something that happens quickly over a few minutes – a movie lasts about two hours.
‘I have been writing for an hour.’
An hour is an extended period of time so it’s more natural for us to use the continuous form of the present perfect, not the simple. Compare it to:
‘I have finished the movie.’
‘I have started that new series.’
To start or finish something is different from actually watching it – it’s different from being in the process. It’s something that is short. The movie started at 9:00, for example, but by 9:15 it’s no longer ‘at the start’. So for these shorter actions, we use present perfect simple.
If I could summarize what the present perfect continuous is all about in one word I would say: duration.
It’s also about the process, not the result.
In reality, you might hear native speakers use what you think is the wrong version from time to time. It’s normal. The line between simple and continuous is not always a strong one.
Okay, time to practice!
Want to try to identify the difference between present perfect simple and present perfect continuous? That should help you get the idea of when to use each one. If you think that both can apply, then just circle the answer you think is better, according to the rules above.
Remember – look at the ‘duration’ of the action to help you decide. Is it something that was more of a process, and took a while to happen (present perfect continuous), or is it something that happened quite quickly (present perfect simple)?
There is an exception here: state verbs never come with ‘ing’. State verbs are verbs such as know, believe, love, hate…
Okay, back to the exercise. After you’ve finished, scroll down to check whether you were correct or not. Good luck!
- How’s your mother? I have not seen/have not been seeing her for ages!
- My husband has worked/has been working for this law firm since he graduated from university.
- I’m really exhausted. I have been working/have worked in the garden all morning.
- Lately, I have been thinking/have thought about looking for a new job.
- She has been becoming/has become dissatisfied with her current workplace.
- We have been discovering/have discovered a new restaurant in the neighbourhood.
- Anthony, what have you been doing/have you done in the attic for such a long time?
- She has been knowing/has known her best friend for five years.
- He has been forgetting/has forgotten to take his wallet with him.
- They have been living/have lived in Paris since they were born.
Now check your answers:
- How’s your mother? I have not seen her for ages!
- My husband has been working for this law firm since he graduated from university.
- I’m really exhausted. I have been working in the garden all morning.
- Lately, I have been thinking about looking for a new job.
- She has become dissatisfied with her current workplace.
- We have discovered a new restaurant in the neighbourhood.
- Anthony, what have you been doing in the attic for such a long time?
- She has known her best friend for five years.
- He has forgotten to take his wallet with him.
- They have been living in Paris since they were born.