What’s the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous?
Most native speakers would have no idea how to explain the difference between the two forms – they just use them instinctively.
Look at my examples:
“I’ve painted the kitchen”
The present perfect is used (here) for a completed action. We would understand that painting is finished and the kitchen has a fresh coat of paint NOW (that’s why it’s called the PRESENT perfect)
“I’ve been painting the kitchen”
Is the painting finished? We don’t know. It might be finished or it might not. That’s not the important thing when we use the continuous form.
If I extend this sentence it becomes clear why I use the continuous form:
“Dinner isn’t ready because I’ve been painting the kitchen”
“I know I’ve got paint on my face, I’ve been painting the kitchen”
Most of my students are comfortable with using the present simple and the present progressive and can explain the difference between the two. I sometimes tell them that if they make a sentence in the present simple, it would be logical to use the simple form in the perfect:
“I live in Paris” (present simple)
“I’ve lived in Paris” (present perfect simple)
“At the moment I’m living in Montpellier” (present continuous)
– so you would say:
“I’ve been living in Montpellier for two months” (present perfect continuous)
What do you do?
– I’m an English teacher
How long have you been an English teacher?
– for twelve years
What are you doing?
– I’m working on my new book
How long have been writing a book?
– for a long time – I’ll probably never finish it!