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Practical English Usage
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Using the present perfect continuous tense
Start learning the present perfect continuous tense by asking yourself how long you have been learning your lessons today. Now think about other activities, too. Consider this situation. You are at the bus station. How long have you been waiting for the bus?
Now consider this situation. It is raining. How long has it been raining?
Dad is reading the newspaper. Do you know how long he has been reading the newspaper?
Now frame answers for these questions.
I have been learning my lessons since morning.
I have been waiting for the bus for 30 minutes.
It has been raining since yesterday.
Dad has been reading the newspaper since morning.
Difference between the present continuous and the present perfect continuous
The present perfect continuous tense is mainly used to talk about actions and situations that are happening at the moment of speaking. It shows continuity but doesn’t show duration.
It is raining.
Here we use the present continuous tense because we do not say when it started raining. This sentence merely states that at the moment of speaking, it is raining.
She is reading.
We don’t know when she started reading, but at the moment of speaking that is what she is doing.
It has been raining since morning. (NOT It is raining since morning.)
This sentence indicates both continuity and duration and that explains why we use the present perfect continuous tense.
She has been reading for two hours. (NOT She is reading for two hours.)Notes
To express the duration of a continuous activity, we use the present perfect continuous tense. To simply state that something is happening, we use the present continuous.
Note the use of the prepositions since and for. They are commonly used with present perfect and present perfect continuous tenses to show duration.
Use since to show when an activity started. Use for to show how long something has been happening.
I have been working since 2 o’clock. (Since indicates the starting point)
I have been working for 4 hours. (For indicates the duration)
More examples showing the difference between the present continuous and present perfect continuous tenses are given below.
The girl is dancing.
Could you tell me how long she has been dancing? Well, she has been dancing for two hours. (NOT She is dancing for two hours.)
Mother is preparing dinner.
I wonder if you can tell me how long she has been preparing dinner. Actually, she has been preparing dinner since seven o’clock.
My uncle’s baby is sleeping.
How long has she been sleeping? Well, she has been sleeping for over two hours.
The present perfect continuous tense is also used to talk about a continuous activity that has caused a present result.
‘You look tired.’ ‘Yes, I have been running.’ (NOT Yes, I am running.)
Here the present perfect continuous tense is used although we do not express the duration of the activity.
‘Your hands are dirty. What have you been doing?’ ‘I have been repairing the car.’
Formation of questions
To form questions you just need to put the auxiliary verb have (or has) before the subject.
He has been working since morning.
Has he been working since morning?
I have been writing for hours.
Have I been writing for hours?
Questions about the length of the activity begin ‘How long…’
He has been playing tennis since has was a boy.
How long has he been playing tennis?
She been writing letters for two hours.
How long has she been writing letters?
To ask what somebody has been doing, you can use the question What have you been doing?
What have you been doing? You’re all wet!
Difference between the present perfect and present perfect continuous tenses
In some cases, they are both possible with little difference of meaning. For example, we can use both present perfect and present perfect continuous tenses to talk about activities that started in the past and have continued up to the present. Read the sentences given below. They both express the same idea.
I have been working on this project for two months. OR I have worked on this project for two months.
The present perfect continuous tense is mainly used to talk about activities that have been continuing over a relatively short period of time. The present perfect tense, on the other hand, is mainly used to talk about longer or more permanent situations.
I have been living in New York for two years.
I have lived in New York all my life.
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