Present Perfect Simple vs. Present Perfect Continuous.

In this lesson you’ll learn when to use the present perfect simple and when to use the present perfect continuous tenses in English. Read the grammar explanation below and then try the exercises. There is a classroom presentation version of this lesson in the Materials tab above. This lesson is part of our Intermediate English Course.

How to Form the Present Perfect Simple and Continuous

Present perfect Simple

Have / has + Past participle

  • He has gone.
  • She has eaten.
  • I have done it.

Present perfect continuous

Have / has + been + gerund

  • We have been waiting.
  • She has been calling.

What’s the Difference between the Present Perfect Simple & Continuous?

Sometimes There isn’t One.

Sometimes there is no difference between the simple and the continuous, for example;

  • Have you worked here long?
  • Have you been working here long?


  • I’ve lived here for 10 years.
  • I’ve been living here for 10 years.

Sometimes there is!

Sometimes there is a big difference in meaning between the simple and continuous.

  • He has hit his head. (Indicates that it happened once.)
  • He has been hitting his head. (Indicates that it happens repeatedly.)

The difference can distinguish between finished and unfinished actions;

  • “I have painted my house.” (Indicates that the job is finished.)
  • “I have been painting my house.” (Emphasises that the work was happening continuously.)

When to use the continuous?

Use the continuous form to emphasise the duration or repetitive nature of an action.

If something happened repeatedly or during a period (especially if the emphasis is how long it had been happening for)

  • I have been waiting all day!
  • I’ve been doing this for years.

Use the continuous form to explain the reason for something in the present.

If something has been happening recently that has results that are evident in the present you can use the continuous form.

  • He is sweating because he has been running.
  • Her eyes are red because she has been cutting onions.

When to avoid the continuous?

Don’t use the continuous when stating how many times something happened

When we say explicitly how many times something had happened we don’t use the present perfect continuous. When saying how many times something happened, use the present perfect simple.

  • I have been calling you all morning ✔️
  • I have called you 5 times ✔️
  • I have been calling you five times ✖️

Don’t use the continuous when talking about states, not actions

We generally avoid the continuous with non-action (stative) verbs like know, believe, want, need, hate, like etc.. These verbs describe states.

  • I’ve been believing it all my life. ✖️
  • I’ve been knowing him for years. ✖️

This has more to do with the sense or meaning of the verb than the verb itself. Be careful, some verbs can have a stative (non-action) meaning and a dynamic (action) meaning. For example, the verb have, can be used as an action or a state.

  • I have been having a house for 10 years ✖️
  • I have been having headaches recently. ✔️
An illustration showing examples action verbs / dynamic verbs (Play asport, drive a car, run, have a drink, cook, talk) and non-action verbs / stative verbs (know someone, have a house, want a dessert, need help, belong to someone, believe)


Check your comprehension of how and when to use these tenses with the interactive grammar exercises below.