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Present Perfect vs. Present Perfect Progressive vs. Past Simple


Present perfect simple refers to or is used:


  • Recent events, without a definite time given. The recentness may be indicated by just.

We've missed the turning. I've just seen a ghost!

  • Indefinite events, which happened at an unknown time in the past. No definite time is given.

Jim has had three car accidents. (up to the present)

  • Indefinite events which may have an obvious result in the present.

I've twisted my ankle. (that's why I'm limping)

  • With state verbs, a state which lasts up to the present.

I've lived here for the past ten years.

  • A habitual action in a period of time up to the present.

I've been sick every morning for the last month.

  • To say that an action or event has been repeated a number of times up to now.

They've been to Chile three times.

  • With the phrase This is / It's/That's the first/ second /only, etc. time

This is the first time he's been late.

  • We sometimes substitute the present perfect with the infinitive structure (yet + inf) for an additional emphasis.

Iíve never met anyone who can run as fast as this.

I have yet to meet anyone who can run as fast as this.

  • With report/comment verbs or phrases (guess, imagine, suppose, etc.):

I reckon Gloria's been held up in traffic.

  • When commenting on the present results or something in the past (usually with appear, seem, sound, etc.):

He sounds as if he has run all the way here.

  • In common phrases.

They've made it! (= They've succeeded)

I've had enough. (= I'm fed up. I don't want to do any more)

You've had it! (= You're in trouble)

That's torn it! (= You, we, etc. have done something that someone else will complain strongly about)

Now you've done it! (= You've done something seriously wrong)

She's arrived. (= She's achieved fame, success, acceptance, etc. at last)

He's lost it. (= He's lost his patience or self-control)

You've got me there! (= Good point: I've no idea what the solution is)


Contrast with past simple:


  • Past simple is used with time expressions which refer to definite times. The time may be stated or understood. Compare:

Iíve bought a new car. (indefinite)

I bought the car after all. (implied definite: the car we talked about)

  • If we are interested in when a present situation began rather than how long it has been going on for, we use the past simple. Compare:

When did you arrive in Britain?

How long have you been in Britain?

  • However, we also use the past simple to talk about how long something went on for if the action or event is no longer going on.

I stayed with my grandparents for six months. (= I am no longer staying there)

'He spent some time in Paris when he was younger.' 'How long did he live there?'

  • When we report that someone has recently invented, produced, discovered or written something we use the present perfect. When we talk about something that was invented, etc. in the more distant past we use the past simple. Compare:

Scientists have discovered that, all over the world, millions of frogs and toads are dying.

Chinese craftsmen invented both paper and printing.

  • Sometimes it makes very little difference to the main sense of the sentence if we think of something happening in a period of time up to the present or at a particular, finished time in the past.

The research is now complete and the experiment was (or has been) a success.

  • We can use either the present perfect or the past simple to talk about repeated actions or events. If we use the present perfect, we often suggest that the action or event might happen again. Sometimes we emphasise this with phrases such as so far and up to now. If we use the past simple, it suggests that it is finished and won't happen again. Compare:

Timson has made 13 films and I think her latest is the best, and

Timson made 13 films before she was tragically killed in a car accident.

  • In news reports, you will often read or hear events introduced with the present perfect, and then

the past simple is used to give the details.

A teacher from Oslo has become the first woman to cross the Antarctic alone. It took her 42 days to make the

crossing with her dog team...

  • In a sentence which includes a since-clause, the usual pattern is for the since-clause to contain a past simple, and the main clause to contain a present perfect.

Since Mr Hassan became president, both taxes and unemployment have increased.

I haven't been able to play tennis since I broke my arm.

  • However, we can use a present perfect (or Present Perfect Progressive) in the since-clause if the two situations described in the main and since-clause extend until the present.

Since I've lived here, I haven't seen my neighbours.

  • Meaning with present perfect verb forms is associated with certain time expressions. Contrast with past simple may depend on the choice of time expression.

Past simple: referring to a specific finished time (yesterday, last week, on Sunday, just now).

Present perfect: with 'indefinite' time expressions meaning 'up to now' (since 1968, already, just, so far).

  • Many time expressions are not associated with a specific verb form, since they refer both to finished time or time up to the present, depending on the speaker's perspective.

I haven't seen Helen recently.

I saw Jim recently.

  • Others include for, never, before, all my life, for a long time, today, all day, every day. These may be used with either past simple or present perfect.
  • Choice between past simple and present perfect for recent events may depend on the attitude of the speaker. This in turn may depend on whether the speaker feels distant in time or place from the event.

I've left my wallet in the car. I'm going back to get it. Here the speaker may be about to return, and feels that the event is connected with the present.

I left my wallet in the car. I'm going back to get it. The speaker may feel separated in time from the event, or be further away.


Present perfect continuous (progressive) refers to or is used:


  • A state which lasts up to the present moment.

I've been waiting for you for three hours!

  • An incomplete activity.

I've been cleaning the house but I still haven't finished.

  • To emphasise duration.

I've been writing letters all morning.

  • A recently finished activity (often with a side effect from the action).

I've been running. That's why I look hot.

  • A repeated activity over a period of time.

I've been taking French lessons this year.

  • With verbs mean, think, consider.

I've been thinking of changing my job.

I've been meaning to get in touch with Helen.


Contrast with present perfect simple:


  • There may be little contrast when some state verbs are used.

How long have you lived here?

How long have you been living here?

  • Some verbs (especially sit, lie, wait and stay) prefer the continuous form.
  • There may be a contrast between completion and incompletion, especially if the number of items completed is mentioned.

I've ironed five shirts this morning. Completed: emphasis on achievement

I've been ironing my shirts this morning. Incomplete, or recently completed: emphasis on duration

  • We use the present perfect rather than the present perfect continuous when we talk about long-lasting or permanent situations, or when we want to emphasise that we are talking about the whole of a period of time until the present.

I have always admired Chester's work.

  • When we talk about more temporary situations we can often use either the present perfect continuous or the present perfect.

'Where's Dr Owen's office?' 'Sorry, I don't know. I've only worked / I've only been working here for a couple of days.'

  • When we want to emphasise that a situation has changed over a period of time up to now, and may continue to change, we prefer the present perfect continuous to the present perfect.

The pollution problem has been getting worse over the last decade.

  • However, if we talk about a specific change over a period of time which ends now, particularly to focus on the result of this change, we use the present perfect.

Prices have decreased by 7%. (= in a period up to now)


Date: 2015-12-17; view: 1553

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