Sunday, 30 September 2012

Grammar Notes: Present Perfect vs Present Perfect Continuous

I'm currently preparing a class for students going into Upper Intermediate (B2) who want to revise the Intermediate (B1) grammatical structures. One topic which often causes confusion is when to use Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous. The areas I'll focus on here are situations where you may want to emphasize different things (Duration vs Result) and what to do in a situation where both forms are valid. 

First, here's a quick review of the structure of both forms:

Present Perfect

Present Perfect Continuous

Note: Have and Has are often contracted. Have becomes 've or and has becomes 's respectively. 
> For example, 'I have' becomes 'I've' 

Result vs Duration

Present Perfect > 'I've made 24 cakes' 
  • The emphasis is on the final result, in this case the quantity of cakes.

Present Perfect Continuous > 'I've been making cakes all day' 
  • The emphasis is on the process or the duration of the event i.e. it took all day. 
★  ★  

Here is another comparison using homework as an example

Present Perfect >  'Woohoo! I've finished my homework!'
  • The emphasis is on the final result. In this example the task (homework) is done and the person shows satisfaction that the task is completed. 

Present Perfect Continuous >  'I've been doing my homework all day!'
  • Here the emphasis is on the activity and duration of the action. In the example, the focus is not whether the action is completed or still in progress but the fact that it is a long process. 

When Both Forms Are Valid 

Both Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous can be used in situations where the action started in the past and is ongoing. 

Exam Tip! If you are in an exam situation and you know that both options are valid, try to use present perfect continuous because it shows that you understand and can use a more complicated grammatical structure. 

Example #1

Present Perfect > 'I've lived in London for 30 years'
  • The action began in the past and is still true now

Present Perfect Continuous > 'I've been living in London for 30 years!' 
  • Shows an action (task, activity etc) in progress until recently or the time of speaking 

Therefore, if the person speaking still lives in London at the time of speaking then both forms are correct. 

Example #2 

Present Perfect > 'The economy has improved' 

> Comparing the past with the present and looking at the final result. 

Present Perfect Continuous > 'The economy has been improving over the years'

> An ongoing process or a series of repeated actions 

Again, both forms are valid but Present Perfect suggests that the event happened only once or on a specified numbers of occasions while Present Perfect Continuous suggests that the action was ongoing or continuous.

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Next Post: Present Perfect (in more detail) 

Related Posts: English Pronunciation: The Letter H and How to Motivate Young Children in Class 


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