English grammar – Present perfect continuous

Need a grammar refresher? Get the Online Grammar Course for TEFL Teachers.

Form

Affirmative: have/has been + present participle (verb + ing)
Negative: haven’t/hasn’t been + present participle (verb + ing)

Meaning

  1. Present perfect continuous is used to talk about an action/event that started in the past and is still happening now.
    • I’ve been waiting for over an hour. (I’m still waiting now)
    • It’s been snowing since 8am. (It’s still snowing now)
  2. How long is often used in questions.
    • How long have you been learning English? (You started learning in the past and are still learning now)
  3. Present perfect continuous is used to talk about an activity/event that has recently finished and has a result or consequence now.
    • She’s tired because she’s been working hard.
    • I have no money left because I’ve been shopping.
  4. Present perfect continuous is used to focus on the action and not on the completion of the action.
    • She’s been writing a book. (focus on the action)
      She’s written a book. (Present perfect simple – focus on the result)
    • They’ve been negotiating the contract. (focus on the action, it’s not important if it’s finished or not)
      They’ve negotiated the contract. (focus on the result,the negotiation is finished)
  5. When the action/event is more temporary we often use present perfect continuous. When it is more permanent we often use present perfect simple.
    • They’ve lived in Italy for many years. (Present perfect simple)
    • I’ve been living here for a month. (Present perfect continuous)

Additional points

  1. Some verbs are not usually used with present perfect continuous because they are not action verbs, for example: believe, belong, depend, hate, know, like, love, mean, need, prefer, realise, suppose, want, understand.
    • I‘ve known him for ten years – correct
      I‘ve been knowing him for ten years – incorrect
    • I‘ve belonged to the tennis club for 25 years – correct
      I‘ve been belonging to the tennis club for 25 years – incorrect

Pronunciation

See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below.

  1. Been is usuallly reduced to its weak form.
    • We’ve been standing for a long time: /bɪn/

Related grammar points

Present Perfect
Tense and aspect


4 teaching ideas

  1. Salvador says:

    I usually draw a time line on the board about something I started doing in the past and at the other end, I write NOW.

    I present this sentence:

    I started working here in 2004, I am working here now.
    I have been working here for 2 years.

  2. Andrew says:

    I use a clock which can be easily adjusted. On the board I write:

    It’s 4pm now – cooking

    I set the time on the clock to 2pm and say:

    I started cooking at this time, how long have I been cooking?

    I use as many examples of verb and time settings as I think necessary. This can also incorporate the functions of ‘since’ (point in time in the past) and ‘for’ (length of time from beginning to continuation.

  3. Ofelya says:

    You can also try the song “In the shadows” by the The Rasmus – lots of present perfect continuous.

  4. G Indira says:

    I show two pictures.

    Picture 1 shows John walking to school and picture 2 shows Matthew walking to school. Matthew started at 8.30am and at 8.45am he has not yet reached school. Then I say…

    “Matthew has been walking to school for 15 minutes.” (I explain that he started walking in the past and has not reached school in the present or you can ask some concept questions like “Has Matthew arrived at school yet? Is he walking now?…)

    “John is walking to school.” (I explain that the time is not mentioned. Right now he is walking. So we use only the present continuous.)

    I think this way of comparing and contrasting helps students.

Add your teaching idea

Your email address will not be published.