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Present Perfect Simple vs. Continuous

Oh. my. god. Claire. stop.


Sorry everyone, but the problem with English isn't so much the singular tenses themselves, but the sometimes very TINY differences between them, and hence when to use them. The difference between the present perfect simple and continuous is quite tricky, I won't lie to you, but there are some tricks and tips I can give you to try and help you differentiate. So let's dive in! I'll be using a bunch of New Year's vocabulary, so don't think this will be a grammar only post!

 

Present Perfect Simple vs. Present Perfect Continuous


One of the biggest differences between these two tenses is the following:

  • The simple tense puts more focus on the ACTION while the continuous tense puts more focus on HOW LONG the action has been in progress.

That said, it's not enough for you to really understand the difference, so check out this chart for specifics and examples!

The present perfect simple

The present perfect continuous

​Actions that started in the past an continue in the present (stative verbs).

  • I have never liked watching New Year's fireworks.

  • NOT "I have never been liking…"


​Actions that started in the past an continue in the present (action verbs).

  • I have been going snowboarding on New Year's Day for many years.

With action verbs (especially live, work, study) that are considered permanent situations:

  • I have lived/worked/studied in Italy for 6 years (and don’t expect the situation to change).

With action verbs (including live, work, study) when they are considered temporary or changes in routine:

  • I have been living/working/studying in Italy for 6 years (and expect the situation to change at some point in the future).

​To talk about an action that started and finished in the past but has a direct result on the present:

  • He's worked a lot this year, he really deserves a holiday (the year is finished or he is on holiday and not working).


To talk about an action that started in the past and is still in progress or has finished in the very recent past:

  • He's been working so much this year, he really needs a holiday (he is still working and is not on holiday yet).

To emphasize the ACTION

  • The children have waited for hours to set off their fireworks (it is more important the fact that they have waited than for how long).


To emphasize the AMOUNT OF TIME

  • The children have been waiting for hours to set off their fireworks (it is more important the fact that they’ve been waiting for a long time).

To emphasize the result of the finished action

  • We've just finished preparing everyone's drinks, let's cheers!


To emphasize the tangible effect the finished action has on the present

  • We've been cooking all day, that’s why the kitchen is a mess.


 

So, as you can see, even with a chart and some examples, it's not the easiest thing to understand. The difference between these two tenses often depends almost entirely on the context, but if you keep these differences in mind, you'll certainly be able to avoid making obvious mistakes. But, as 2022 comes to a close, I'd like to give you one piece of advice...stop trying to be perfect and stop worrying about speaking perfect English. Yes, grammar is important, but even if your grammar isn't 100% perfect, chances are you'll still be understood, and at the end of the day, isn't that the point? To be able to communicate? So perhaps instead of making a New Year's Resolution to "be perfect in English", make a more realistic goal, perhaps like, "be able to communicate comfortably in English".


So, with that, I wish you all a very Happy New Year's and a great start to 2023!


 

Glossary

  • to dive in: phrasal verb - to begin, to start

  • a bunch: informal for many

  • fireworks: fuochi d'artificio

  • cheers: when you clink your glass of alcohol with someone else's (this word is a noun and a verb, in this case it's being used as a verb)

  • a mess: synonym for small disaster

  • comes to a close: set phrase for when something is ending

  • at the end of the day: set phrase to say, "so", "in summary"


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