In one of my previous articles I wrote about the difference between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple. Today I would like to deal with the Present Perfect Continuous and contrast it with the Present Perfect Simple.
Let us first review the uses of the” Present Perfect Simple, the more common variation of the two Present Perfect tenses.
USE 1 Unspecified Time Before Now
We use the Present Perfect to say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important. You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with time expressions such as „yesterday,” „one year ago,” „last week,” „when I was a child,” „when I lived in Saska Kępa,” „at that moment,” „that day” or „one day.” We CAN use the Present Perfect with expressions like „ever,” „never,” „once,” „many times,” „several times,” „before,” „so far,” „already” and „yet.”
I have seen that film twenty times.
I think I have met him before.
There have been many earthquakes in Japan.
Has there ever been a war in the United States?
Yes, there has been a war in the United States.
People have travelled to the moon.
IMPORTANT: How do you actually use the Present Perfect?
The concept of „unspecified time” can be very confusing to English learners. It is best to associate Present Perfect with the following topics:
TOPIC 1 Experience
You can use the Present Perfect to describe your experience. It is like saying, „I have the experience of…” You can also use this tense to say that you have never had a certain experience. The Present Perfect is NOT used to describe a specific event.
I have been to Krynica.
(This sentence means that you have the experience of being to Krynica. Maybe you have been once, or several times.)
I have been to Otwock three times.
(You can add the number of times at the end of the sentence.)
I have never been to Piaseczno.
(This sentence means that you have not had the experience of going to Piaseczno.)
I think I have seen that film before.
He has never travelled by train.
Have you ever met him?
No, I have never met him.
TOPIC 2 Change Over Time
We often use the Present Perfect to talk about change that has happened over a period of time.
You have grown since the last time I saw you.
The government has become more interested in secondary school education.
Japanese has become one of the most popular courses at the university since the Asian studies program was established.
My English has really improved since I started studying at Derby.
TOPIC 3 Accomplishments
We often use the Present Perfect to list the accomplishments of individuals and humanity. You cannot mention a specific time.
Man has walked on the moon.
My daughter has learned how to walk.
Doctors have cured many deadly diseases.
Scientists have split the atom.
TOPIC 4 An Uncompleted Action You Are Expecting
We often use the Present Perfect to say that an action, which we expect, has not happened. Using the Present Perfect suggests that we are still waiting for the action.
Powel has not finished his homework yet.
Peter hasn’t mastered German, but he can communicate.
Eva has not arrived yet.
The rain hasn’t stopped.
TOPIC 5 Multiple Actions at Different Times
We also use the Present Perfect to talk about several different actions which occurred in the past at different times. Present Perfect suggests the process is not complete and more actions are possible.
The army has attacked that city five times.
I have had five tests so far this semester.
We have had many major problems while working on this project.
She has talked to several specialists about her problem, but nobody knows why she is sick.
When we use the Present Perfect it means that something happened at some point in our lives before now. Remember, the exact time the action happened is not important.
Sometimes we want to limit the time we are looking in for an experience. Expressions such as „in the last week,” „in the last year,” „this week,” „this month,” „so far” and „up to now” can be used to narrow the time we are looking in for an experience.
Have you been to Mexico in the last year?
I have seen that movie six times in the last month.
They have had three tests in the last week.
She graduated from university less three years ago. She has worked for three different companies so far.
This week my car has broken down three times.
„Last year” and „in the last year” are very different in meaning. „Last year” means the year before now. „In the last year” means from 365 days ago until now.
I went to Mexico last year.
(I went to Mexico in 1998.)
I have been to Mexico in the last year.
(I have been to Mexico at least once at some point between 365 days ago and now. We do not know exactly when.)
ACTIVE / PASSIVE Present Perfect
Many tourists have visited that castle. ACTIVE
That castle has been visited by many tourists. PASSIVE
What about the Present Perfect Continuous ?
USE 1 Duration from the Past Until Now””””
We use the Present Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and has continued up until now. „For five minutes”, „for two weeks”, and „since Tuesday” are all durations which can be used with the Present Perfect Continuous.
NOTE: When you are using a verb tense with more than one part such as Present Perfect Continuous (has been studying), adverbs often come between the first part and the second part (has only been studying).
I have been waiting here for two hours.
She has only been studying English for two years.
They have been talking for the last hour.
She has been working at that company for three years.
James has been teaching at the University since June.
USE 2 Recently, Lately””””
You can use the Present Perfect Continuous WITHOUT a duration such as „for five minutes”, „for two weeks”, and „since Tuesday”. Without the durations, this tense gives a more general meaning of „lately”. We often use the words „lately” or „recently” in the sentence to strengthen this meaning.
Recently, I have been feeling really tired.
She has been watching too much television lately.
Mary has been feeling a little depressed.
Remember that the Present Perfect Continuous has the meaning of „lately” or „recently.” If you use the Present Perfect Continuous in a question such as „Have you been feeling all right?”, it suggests that the person looks sick or unhealthy. A question such as „Having you been smoking?” suggests that you can smell the smoke on the person. Using this tense in a question suggests you can see, smell, hear, or feel the results of the action. It is possible to insult someone by using this tense incorrectly.
IMPORTANT Non-Continuous Verbs
With Non-continuous verbs we use the Present Perfect Simple to show that something started in the past and has continued up until now. „For five minutes,” „for two weeks” and „since Tuesday” are all durations that can be used with the Present Perfect Simple.
I have had a cold for two weeks.
She has been in England for six months.
Mary has loved chocolate since she was a little girl.
Sam has been having his car for two years. Wrong!!!
Sam has had his car for two years. Correct