March 30

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How to Use the Present Perfect Continuous (and the Present Perfect Simple) Correctly – Podcast

Hi everyone, you’re listening to Cambridge Exam Coach, a podcast for people who want to improve their English. I’m Kristian, your host, and in this episode we’re going to be talking about the Present Perfect Continuous.

Before we begin, let me just remind you that you can read the transcript on my website.

What’s more, questions and comments are always welcome, so feel free to get in touch with me. You can reach out to me via email, Instagram DM, Facebook DM, LinkedIn DM and last but not least, Clubhouse. 

OK, that’s enough housekeeping for today. Are you ready? Here we go!

Today we’re going to be comparing present perfect simple (PPS) and present perfect continuous (PPC).

Let’s talk about form first. You know how to create the PPS:

Present perfect simple: have/has + past participle

I have learnt Czech.

To create the present perfect continuous you need: have/has + been + ing

I’ve been learning Czech.

We’re going to talk about the difference in meaning in a few moments, so hold on.

In terms of the form, I think PPC is easier than PPS. All you have to remember is to choose have or has, and then add been and an -ing form. You don’t have to worry about past participles of irregular verbs, or different -ed endings. (to study, studied)

But in terms of the use, it can be quite difficult for learners of English to see the difference between PPC and PPS and to then use both forms confidently and naturally.

So, let’s look at some pairs of sentences without context and then you can think about any differences in meaning. Usually the two tenses (PPS and PPC) mean different things, but sometimes they mean the same thing.

So, consider these 3 pairs of sentences. Do they mean the same thing or not? Why?

I’ve learned Czech versus I’ve been learning Czech.

I’ve lived in Prague versus I’ve been living in Prague.

I’ve started a podcast versus I’ve been starting a podcast.

Do you understand the differences in meaning?

The main differences are: PPS focuses on results of actions. We consider the action to be complete. We’re focusing on the result of a complete action. PPC focuses on the process of the action. It emphasizes that it’s a repeated action. It’s all about the process, not about the result.

Let’s look at the sentences again, but now with context.

I’ve learned Czech. (It’s all done now. Let’s move on to the next language!)

I’ve been learning Czech. (Here we focus on the repeated process. Imagine someone practicing again and again)

Sometimes PPS and PPC can mean the same thing when you’re using a verb that can refer to a long action.

For example:

I’ve lived in Prague for 2 years and I’ve been living in Prague for 2 years.

So, the times when PPS and PPC are the same is when the PPS version describes an action that started in the past and continues now (long verb, like live), especially when you use an expression for a period of time, like I’ve lived in Prague for 2 years and  I’ve been living in Prague for 2 years.

Now, there are grammar purists who argue that there’s also a difference here between process and result in this example, but for now you should just remember that most native speakers don’t care about the difference.

And now to the 3rd pair: I’ve started a podcast versus I’ve been starting a podcast.

̶I̶’̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶o̶d̶c̶a̶s̶t̶ doesn’t sound right. Obviously you can’t keep starting a podcast. It’s a short action. So I’ve started a podcast is the correct sentence here.

Here are a few more examples to show you the difference between result and process.

I’ve lost my keys. (You don’t know where the keys are now)

I’ve been losing my keys. (again and again and again, what’s wrong with me?)

I’ve lost my keys. Have you seen them?

I’ve been losing my keys a lot recently. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I have read two books and now I’m much wiser. (finished)

I have been reading two books, one in English and one in Czech. (still reading)

Another way to think about the difference between PPC and PPS is how long vs how much.

It’s very common to use PPC to describe how long for a present action.

I’m working on a new podcast episode about articles. I’ve been working on it for a few days.

We might use PPS for How many times or how much:

● How many episodes of the podcast have you made?

● How much time have you spent on it so far?

● How long have you been working on it?

This is a perfect opportunity to practice English with somebody else. Ask your English learning partner (or yourself) about something he/she is working on at the moment. Show your interest and keep the conversation going with some more questions.

Are you working on anything at the moment? I’m working on a podcast (I’ve been working on episode number 17).

How long have you been doing that? I’ve been doing that for two days.

How much/many … have you done? I’ve written the whole transcript, so 80 percent of all the work has been done.

How is it going? It’s going well, but I still need to record it.

Now it’s over to you. You can stop the podcast to practice this conversation if you want.

You can also continue to listen to the rest of this episode, but I have to warn you: the next part is about a new point, so I’d suggest to pause the podcast for a moment to start practicing the PPS and PPC with how long, how much and how many questions.

All right, we now know about the difference between process and result, the difference between how long and how many, how much.

It’s time to highlight the third point about the PPC:

State verbs vs Action verbs

We don’t use state verbs in continuous forms. But, what are state verbs?

Action verbs describe an action. You can probably mime, show, demonstrate that action. State verbs describe, well, a state rather than an action.

For example, We say “I love you” not “ I am loving you”

and we say “I believe in you” not “ I’m believing in you ”,

and “I disagree with you” not “I’m disagreeing with you”.

How do you know if it’s a state verb or an action verb?

There are many lists withs state verbs available on the internet, but basically, I often tell my students that if they can’t physically demonstrate how to do the verb, it’s probably a state verb.

Think about it.

How do mime (show, demonstrate) the verb to eat? It’s easy, right? That’s because it’s an action verb.

But how do you mime know. It’s much more difficult. You’ll probably tap your head or something, but it’s not very clear. This is because know is a state verb.

So, I have known you for 20 years. Not ̶I̶’̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶2̶0̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶r̶s̶. OK?

Remember that sometimes verbs have more than one meaning, and perhaps only one meaning of these verbs is stative. For example, have is a state verb but only when it’s used to talk about possession. Sometimes have means other things (like have breakfast in which case it means to eat). So only possessive have is a state verb. (another example is think)

That’s it for today. Now it’s time for you to start practicing. You can use my examples to write down your own examples.

And if you’re going to remember only one thing from this episode, let it be this rule:

PPS is all about the result. PPC is all about the process.

All right, let me know your thoughts on this episode in the comments or via email.

Take care of yourself, and each other and I’ll catch you in the next episode.

About the author 

Kristian

Kristian is from The Netherlands, but he lives in Prague, Czechia. He is a CELTA qualified teacher who passed the Cambridge C2 Proficiency exam with grade A. When he's not working, he likes to chill out with music, podcasts or an audiobook.


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