THE PRESENT PERFECT AND THE PRESENTPERFECT CONTINUOUS: FINISHED AND UNFINISHED ACTIONS
FINISHED ACTIONS: For finished actions, use the PRESENT PERFECT SIMPLE. Finished action = when an action is completed at an unspecified time in the past.
WORDS AND PHRASES USEDWITH THE PRESENT PERFECT SIMPLE (for finished actions):already – ever – never – yet – once – twice – three times – four times – How many times...? – so far - just
UNFINISHED ACTIONS – WORDS AND PHRASES OFTEN USEDFOR – LATELY – THESE DAYS – SINCE – RECENTLY – FOR A WHILE – ALL DAY – THIS YEAR – HOW LONG...?
EXAMPLES - SIMPLE: I’ve already seen that film. I saw it yesterday. Sandra has never been to France. How many times have you eaten Mexican food?
I’ve watched that DVD three times. I’ve written 5 letters so far.
EXAMPLES - CONTINUOUS I’ve been living here for a few years. How long have you been learning English for? She hasn’t been drinking for a few years.* It’s been raining all day.
For non-continuous verbs we should use the present perfect. Some of these verbs include: want, know, need, like, have (possession), cost etc. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. She’s had many cars in her life. They’ve needed help for a while.
VERY RECENTLY FINISHED ACTIONS: AN EXCEPTION The Present Perfect Continuous is preferred to describe very recently completed actions when results can still be seen.
EXAMPLES: They’ve been practicing. I see them putting their instruments away. Have you been drinking? I can smell alcohol on your breath. Why are you so wet? – I’ve been washing the car.
UNFINISHED OR CONTINUING ACTIONSSometimes theres really nodifference in meaningbetween the two tenses.This is especially the casewith verbs such as live,‘listen’, work and study‘.
Theyve lived in London since 2004. Theyve been living in London since 2004. Ive studied French for ten years. Ive been studying French for ten years. Hes worked at the company since 2009. Hes been working at our company since 2009.
1: The Pres. Perf. continuous can beused to emphasise the length of timethat has passed. The present perfect simple is generally neutral: Theyve been waiting for hours! (This emphasises the length of time). Theyve waited for hours. (This doesnt emphasise the length of time).
2: On the other hand, the presentperfect simple is often used when were talking about how much orhow many. This isnt possible with the present perfect continuous:
Shes drunk three cups of coffee this morning. Shes drunk at least a litre of coffee today. (NOT: shes been drinking three cups of coffee this morning).
3: The present perfect continuous often focuses on the action itself, while the present perfect simplefocuses on the fact that the action is completed:
Ive been reading the book you recommended. (Im enjoying it, but Im not finished). Ive read the book you recommended. (Ive finished it, so we can talk about it).
We use yet and already with the present perfect simple: Have you read the book yet? Shes finished her work already.
This difference is often used to talk about different kinds of results in the present. The present perfect simple is used when the action is finished, and the result comes from the action being finished:
Ive eaten dinner, so lets go out. Shes done all her homework, so she can relax this evening. Ive made a cake. Would you like some?
The present perfect continuous is used when the result comes from the action itself. It doesnt matter if the whole action is finished or not. The result is often something we can see, hear, smell, or feel:
Ive been eating dinner, so there are plates all over the table. Shes been doing her homework, so shes tired. Ive been making a cake, thats why the kitchen is such a mess.
4: Finally, the present perfect continuous can be used to emphasise that something is temporary: Shes been running a lot recently. (She doesnt usually do this). Usually I study at home, but Ive been studying in the library for the last week.