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Difference Between the Present Perfect and the Present Perfect Continuous

Present Perfect vs Present Perfect Continuous

In the English language, tenses hold a very important place. A “tense” is described as “a set of forms that a verb takes to indicate the time of action, completeness, or continuance of any action.” The present perfect tense and the present perfect continuous both talk about a recent activity or action.

Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense discusses an action which has been completed recently. Present perfect is used to talk about an activity that has happened at an unspecified time from the present. Mentioning the exact time is not necessary. The present perfect is used coupled with obscure expressions such as: ever, never, many times, before, already, yet, etc.
The present perfect is represented as [has/have] + past participle. It is used to represent experience, accomplishments, and a change over time. It is also used for an incomplete action that you are expecting and also for multiple actions that have taken place in the past at different times.  For instance:

  • I have taught at Oxford for many years. (Experience)
  • He has worked hard for a long time to attain this position. (Accomplishments)
  • I have learned my biology lesson. (Experience)
  • I have been to Greece. (Accomplishments)
  • He has been to Hong Kong four times. (Change Over Time)
  • Sam has not yet arrived in Boston. (Incomplete Action)
  • He has consulted many specialists about his Thalassemic daughter, but she is still not improving. (Multiple Actions)

The present perfect is also used along with time adverbials that refer to the recent past  such as: recently, just, or which include the present such as: ever, yet, so far, until now. For instance:

  • I have just finished my homework.
  • I have been in the hospital until now.
  • Have you ever been responsible?
  • You have not visited a doctor yet?

However, the present perfect is not used in instances if the past time is finished. For instance, the statement “I have bought a new book yesterday” is improper usage. However, it is correct to say that “I have bought a new book today.” In this case, the time is not yet over. Similarly, the sentence “I have been to Disneyland when I was a little boy” is incorrect. While it is correct to say “I have been to Disneyland.”

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

The present perfect continuous tense takes account of an activity as a continuous action which might not be over or finished. The present perfect continuous talks about an action which has started in the past, is still going on in the present, and will continue in the future.

The present perfect continuous is represented as [has/have] + been + past participle. It is used in instances that have begun in the past and are still continuing. For instance:

  • It has been raining since the last three hours.
  • Sam has been in the plumbing job since July.

The present perfect continuous can also be used without specifying the duration with the use of words such as “recently” or “lately.” The adverbials like: always, never, only, ever, just, still, etc. may be used with the present perfect continuous tense. For instance:

  • Have you been smoking lately?
  • Recently, I have been to a cardiologist.


  1. The present perfect is for an action which has been completed recently while the present perfect continuous takes into account an activity as a continuous action which might not be over or finished.
  2. The present perfect does not specify time while the present perfect continuous may or may not specify time.

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  1. Present perfect focuses on the verb (action, activity, state,…) or on the object. the speaker wants to talk about the action or about the object of the verb. Present perfect continuous focuses on the subject. the speaker wants to talk about the subject. In discourse analysis, the theme of the first is the action; whereas the theme of the latter is the subject.

  2. please can you clear the difference between the usage of simple past and past perfect in sentences like, ‘I_____ him at the park yesterday.’ what will be more appropriate ‘saw’ or ‘had seen’ and why ?

    • The answer is “I saw”, because ‘had seen’ shifts the event further into the past to make room for another past event.

  3. Please note when using PP that “for” is used with a period of time (duration) and “since” with a point in time (eg last year, 2007, January).
    The above sentence ‘It has been raining since the last 3 hours’ is therefore not strictly correct. We can say ‘It has been raining since 3 o’clock’ or ‘It has been raining for the last 3 hours’.

  4. I am very confident, that your second example for usage of present perfect continuous “Sam has been in the plumbing job since July” indeed is not what you claim. This sentence is plain present perfect as described above. There is no present participle. “Plumbing” is simply a part of the composite noun “plumbing business”.

    • And in addition your description of how the present perfect continuous is formed is incorrect as well. You write: “The present perfect continuous is represented as [has/have] + been + past participle.” But the present perfect continuous does not utilize the past participle. Instead you need the present participle (-ing form).

      In addition your fourth example: “Recently, I have been to a cardiologist.”, is incorrect, as it is not present perfect continuous but rather just present perfect (as explained for your second example).

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