Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous

Lesson 4.5 Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous

4.5.1  We talked about Present Perfect in Lesson 2.2. In summary, we use Present Perfect when:

  • the action is finished    I have been to the shop.  = The action is past.
  • the time is unfinished    e.g. today

For example:

  • I have been to the shop today.
  • I have eaten a sandwich today.

The action is past, but the time (today) is not finished. That’s why it is called Present Perfect – the past is connected to the present.

4.5.2  Unfinished time is time that is still going. It is still ‘active’ in our minds. For example, ‘today’ is not finished until midnight. These times are also unfinished:

  • .. morning / afternoon / evening / week / month / year
  • time ‘up to now’, e.g. ‘in the last few minutes’
  • in my life – my life is not finished time
  • in the past few / two… days / weeks / months / years up to now

4.5.3  Let’s be clear: Present Perfect – and by extension Present Perfect Continuous – are nobody’s favourite tenses. No students looks forward to a test on Present Perfect. Because these tenses do not exist in many world languages – e.g. Arabic, French, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, and many more – some students reasonably ask why they are required in English. Even English-speaking countries, like the USA, often avoid using Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous because they seem too ‘fiddly’ and will use Past Simple and Past Continuous respectively instead. For example:

A British person might say:

  • I’ve been to the shop today.
  • I’ve been cleaning the house all morning.

While a New Yorker might say:

  • I was at the shop today.
  • I was cleaning the house all morning.

However, British English speakers LOVE using Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous. They give us more flexibility when talking about the time of our actions, and they bring past actions into the present time, making them seem more immediate and relevant in the present moment. For example, look at the difference:

Past Simple:    I went to the shop today.

The listener understands the time is past, so the action is less relevant to now, and so perhaps becomes less interested in the speaker’s words.

Present Perfect:    I’ve been to the shop today.

The listener understands that the action has relevance to now, and so perhaps becomes more interested in the speaker’s words.

In short, Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous bring a feeling of ‘the present’ to (usually) recent past actions. So if you are learning British English you have no choice but to accept these tenses and learn to use them correctly.

4.5.4  We use Present Perfect Continuous (also known as Present Perfect Progressive) in the same time as Present Perfect – unfinished time. We often use both tenses to talk about what has happened or what we have been doing in recent time or in the time that is close to now, especially ‘today’. In this summary we can compare the features of Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous:

4.5.5  While the two tenses share the same time – unfinished time – there are some important differences:

4.5.6  Sometimes we can use either Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous with the same main verb, but there is a slight difference in meaning.

Look at the two sentences from 4.5.5:

Present Perfect:    I’ve lived here for two years.

Present Perfect Continuous:    I’ve been living here for two years.

Both are possible, but what is the difference in the meaning?

By using Present Perfect, the speaker communicates that they feel this action is more permanent.

By using Present Perfect Continuous, the speaker communicates that they feel this action is more temporary.

It’s a subtle difference, but the speaker is able to communicate slightly different meanings by their choice of tense. For example:

I have worked at this school for a year.    (…and I feel quite settled here in my job.)

I have been working at this school for a year.    (…but it doesn’t feel like a permanent job really.)

4.5.7  We use Present Perfect Continuous when we see evidence and want to know what has been happening, e.g.

Phil is very muddy. We can ask: ‘Why are you muddy? What have you been doing?’

Phil: ‘I’ve been playing football all morning.’

Some kids are crying. We can ask: ‘What has been going on here?’

Mary: ‘Some older kids have been bullying Paul and his brother.’

There is a mess at home. We can ask: ‘What on earth has been going on here?!’

Rachel: ‘Er, we’ve been having a bit of a party. Sorry, mum!’

Jane is out of breath. Ian asks: ‘What have you been doing?’

Jane: ‘I was running to catch the bus – but I missed it!’

4.5.8  You probably know that we usually use contractions with Present Perfect in informal speech and writing:

But it is worth noting what happens with Present Perfect Continuous. We use the same contractions as above, but the second auxiliary verb – ‘been’ – is also contracted to ‘bin’:

Of course, we have to write ‘I’ve been…’ and so on, but the pronunciation of ‘been’ in a sentence is always with the short vowel sound  i  :  bin. Remember that in English ‘bean’ is a vegetable, while ‘been’ is always contracted to ‘bin’.

The reason is that have/has and been are auxiliary words, which makes them function words, which are not usually stressed in an English sentence. You can find out more about English sentence stress in Lesson 2.5.

Exercises:

Ex. 4.5.1 Reading  Complete the sentences by adding the past participle for each infinitive verb in brackets:

1. I haven’t (finish) ____________________ my homework yet.
2. Have you (read) ____________________ the paper today?
3. I have often (visit) ____________________ the British Museum in
London.
4. Oh no! Sophie’s (use) ____________________ all the milk!
5. I have (enter) ____________________ a competition to win a new car.
6. Bob has (spend) ____________________ all of his hard-earned savings.
7. I have (pass) ____________________ four exams this year.
8. Have you (check) ____________________ the time of your flight?
9. I’ve only (take) ____________________ two photos so far.
10. I’m really sorry; I have (break) ____________________ your camcorder.
11. She has (paint) ____________________ a picture for her grandma.
12. We have (give) ____________________ the room key to your wife.
13. Have you (hang up) ____________________ your jacket?
14. I have (write) ____________________ to your solicitor.
15. Bert has (get) ____________________ every episode of Friends on DVD.

Ex. 4.5.2 Writing  Rearrange the words in each sentence to make a question in present perfect tense. Don’t forget to put a capital letter at the start of each sentence and a question mark at the end:

1. grass the you have cutting finished
__________________________________________________________________________
2. my gone where has friend
__________________________________________________________________________
3. arranged you have when Steve to meet
__________________________________________________________________________
4. got the conkers who’s most
__________________________________________________________________________
5. have you abroad how travelled often
__________________________________________________________________________
6. dress have which chosen wedding you
__________________________________________________________________________
7. have you to what said Mark
__________________________________________________________________________
8. week phoned have your you this auntie
__________________________________________________________________________
9. chocolate has fridge my the disappeared why from
__________________________________________________________________________
10. finished has work yet Joanne
__________________________________________________________________________

Ex. 4.5.3 Writing  Rearrange the words in each sentence to make a question in present perfect continuous tense. Don’t forget to put a capital letter at the start of each sentence and a question mark at the end:

1. all piano Mary afternoon playing the been has
__________________________________________________________________________
2. to for years they the have nearly been campsite twelve going same
__________________________________________________________________________
3. his for and have their donations been asking friends Roger brother
__________________________________________________________________________
4. past for your half an teacher been hour talking has the
__________________________________________________________________________
5. and you dolphins have whales this morning reading about been
__________________________________________________________________________
6. him since Peter’s have Saturday been with parents staying
__________________________________________________________________________
7. a you brother’s making for birthday your been have party cake
__________________________________________________________________________
8. today bothering the have you newspaper been reporters
__________________________________________________________________________
9. talking been Jason about has me
__________________________________________________________________________
10. running outside dog her been all little around has day
__________________________________________________________________________

Ex. 4.5.4 Writing  Complete the Present Perfect sentence blocks:

Starting sentence A: Sue has worked for the travel company for the past two years.

wh- question: How long ______________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question: _______________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question to get a negative answer: _______________________________________________________
short negative answer: _______________________________________________________
long negative answer: _______________________________________________________

Extension: make more sentence blocks using: what, where, who, what kind

Starting sentence B: My partner has applied for three part-time jobs this week.

wh- question: Who __________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question: _______________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question to get a negative answer: _______________________________________________________
short negative answer: _______________________________________________________
long negative answer: _______________________________________________________

Extension: make more sentence blocks using: what (x2), when, how many, what kind

Ex. 4.5.5 Writing  Complete the Present Perfect Continuous sentence blocks:

Starting sentence A: Jean has been doing her homework for twenty minutes.

wh- question: How long ______________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question: _______________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question to get a negative answer: _______________________________________________________
short negative answer: _______________________________________________________
long negative answer: _______________________________________________________

Extension: make more sentence blocks using: who, what, whose

Starting sentence B: Our book group has been meeting in this cafe since 2004.

wh- question: Where _________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question: _______________________________________________________
short answer: _______________________________________________________
yes/no question to
get a negative answer: _______________________________________________________
short negative answer: _______________________________________________________
long negative answer: _______________________________________________________

Extension: make more sentence blocks using: how long, whose, which, what

Ex. 4.5.6 Reading  All of the residents of The Pine Trees Nursing Home in Orlando Avenue have gathered in the lounge for their weekly residents’ meeting. The duty manager asks them what they have been doing all morning.

A) Complete the gaps below using the following words:

  1. Jack says, “I’ve been ____________________ the plants in my room.”
  2. Mabel says: “I’ve been ____________________ the dishes in the kitchen.”
  3. Dolly says: “I’ve been ____________________ a letter to my great grand-daughter.”
  4. Arif says: “I’ve been ____________________ a quiz programme on TV.”
  5. Austin says: “I’ve been ____________________ the breakfast table.”
  6. Dorothy says: “I’ve been ____________________ the Guardian crossword.”
  7. Barry says: “I’ve been ____________________ the budgies.”
  8. Les says: “I’ve been ____________________ out of the window.”
  9. Harjinder says: “I’ve been ____________________ some new clothes.”
  10. Patrick says: “I’ve been ____________________ to my friends.”
  11. Gracie says: “I’ve been ____________________ photos in my photo album.”
  12. Maria says: “I’ve been ____________________ a sweater for my great niece.”
  13. Thora says: “I’ve been ____________________ in my armchair having a little sleep.”
  14. Hermione says: “I’ve been ____________________ my hair.”
  15. Jemima says: “I’ve been ____________________ my sister-in-law in hospital.”
  16. Barney says: “I’ve been ____________________ an argument with my daughter.”
  17. Samson says: “I’ve been ____________________ to have a go on the computer.”
  18. Luka says: “I’ve been ____________________ an interesting book about Russia.”
  19. Jonathan says: “I’ve been ____________________ pool with one of the nurses.”
  20. Thomas says: “I’ve been ____________________ food at people I don’t like.”

B) Ask and answer questions about the residents. For example: “What has Jack been doing?”

Ex. 4.5.7 Related activities: