Comparison present perfect simple and continuous

(Direct feature comparison of the simple and the ing-form of the present perfect)

Table of contents – comparison present perfect simple & continuous

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Differences present perfect simple vs continuous
  2. Signal words present perfect
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are the main differences between the present perfect simple and continuous?

First of all, it is essential to make clear that both verb tenses, the present perfect simple (explanation in detail) and the present perfect continuous (detailed explanation) are tenses of the present. This fact is critical to know as both tenses are in any case somehow related to the present (now) although the event or the process might have taken place in the past. In addition, there is a very special usage of the ing-form of the present perfect (in comparison to other ing-forms), which is the representation of other aspects than ongoing processes. It is crucial to know that both tenses cannot be exchanged with one another arbitrarily. Have a look at the table with details and main points in direct comparison:

Juxtaposition of form

Present perfect simple Present perfect continuous
  • in general: ‘have/has’ + past participle (verb + ‘ed’ or third column of the irregular verbs)
  • always: ‘have/has been’ + present participle (in most cases base form of the verb + ‘ing’)
  • example (regular verb):
    • “She has asked.”
  • example (mere attaching of ‘-ing’):
    • “We have been waiting.”
  • example (irregular verb):
    • “They have gone.”
  • example (doubling of the consonant ‘-t’):
    • “I have been sitting here.”

Juxtaposition of use

Present perfect simple Present perfect continuous
  • It generally relates to a number, something that can be counted. That means, “How many …?” or “How often …?” are common questions. The event can happen once more:
    • “He has watched that film five times.”
  • Here, the main focus is the duration, that means how long something has been happening:
    • “He has been watching that film for an hour.”
  • If the number is irrelevant, the action has often just finished:
    • “She’s just talked to Susan.”
  • The result is rather not important here; the process is significant. In most cases, it is still ongoing:
    • “She’s been talking to Susan.”
  • The outcome (result) of a past action is central now (in the present). The action has ended:
    • “She’s read the book and finds it quite dramatic.”
  • An action might have happened in the past but has still got an effect on the present situation:
    • “She’s been reading the book and is very tired now.”
  • States and perceptions of the senses (expressed by using stative verbs), that are still valid:
    • “They have known each other for a long time.”
  • States are usually not expressed with ing-forms.
  • not suitable
  • Indication of the duration of habits and regular activities that are still maintained:
    • “She has been doing yoga for years now.”

What are suitable signal words for the present perfect?

Although both verb tenses (simple and continuous) are somewhat difficult to differentiate, there is some help how you can find the right tense in most cases. However, it is always important to see if the priority lies on the process itself or the result of the action. Mind the following:

Signal (key) words for the present perfect simple and continuous

Present perfect simple Present perfect progressive/continuous
Main aspect: result Main aspect: process

Examples:

  • just
  • ever
  • never
  • how often
  • yet
  • already

Examples:

  • all day
  • for months
  • the whole day

Further explanations related to the topic ‘Present perfect simple and progressive’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Comparison of the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive’ and could be interesting too:

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