Friday, 8 April 2011


How do we make the Present Perfect Continuous Tense?

The structure of the present perfect continuous tense is:
(+) S + have/has + been + V3 + O
(-) S + have/has + not = been + V3 + O
(?) Have/has + S + been + v3 + O

Here are some examples of the present perfect continuous tense:
subject auxiliary verb auxiliary verb main verb
+ I have been waiting for one hour.
+ You have been talking too much.
- It has not been raining.
- We have not been playing football.
? Have you been seeing her?
? Have they been doing their homework?


When we use the present perfect continuous tense in speaking, we often contract the subject and the first auxiliary. We also sometimes do this in informal writing.
I have been I've been
You have been You've been
He has been
She has been
It has been
John has been
The car has been
He's been
She's been
It's been
John's been
The car's been
We have been We've been
They have been They've been
Here are some examples:
  • I've been reading.
  • The car's been giving trouble.
  • We've been playing tennis for two hours.
How do we use the Present Perfect Continuous Tense?

This tense is called the present perfect continuous tense. There is usually a connection with the present or now. There are basically two uses for the present perfect continuous tense:

1. An action that has just stopped or recently stopped

We use the present perfect continuous tense to talk about an action that started in the past and stopped recently. There is usually a result now.
I'm tired because I've been running.
past present future

Recent action. Result now.
  • I'm tired [now] because I've been running.
  • Why is the grass wet [now]? Has it been raining?
  • You don't understand [now] because you haven't been listening.

2. An action continuing up to now

We use the present perfect continuous tense to talk about an action that started in the past and is continuing now. This is often used with for or since.
I have been reading for 2 hours.
past present future

Action started in past. Action is continuing now.
  • I have been reading for 2 hours. [I am still reading now.]
  • We've been studying since 9 o'clock. [We're still studying now.]
  • How long have you been learning English? [You are still learning now.]
  • We have not been smoking. [And we are not smoking now.]

For and Since with Present Perfect Continuous Tense

We often use for and since with the present perfect tense.
  • We use for to talk about a period of time - 5 minutes, 2 weeks, 6 years.
  • We use since to talk about a point in past time - 9 o'clock, 1st January, Monday.
for since
a period of time a point in past time

20 minutes 6.15pm
three days Monday
6 months January
4 years 1994
2 centuries 1800
a long time I left school
ever the beginning of time
etc etc
Here are some examples:
  • I have been studying for 3 hours.
  • I have been watching TV since 7pm.
  • Tara hasn't been feeling well for 2 weeks.
  • Tara hasn't been visiting us since March.
  • He has been playing football for a long time.
  • He has been living in Bangkok since he left school.


Verb Meanings with Continuous Tenses

There are some verbs that we do not normally use in the continuous tense. And there are other verbs that we use in the simple tense with one meaning and in the continuous tense with another meaning.
In this lesson we look at various uses of continuous tenses, followed by a quiz to check your understanding: 
Verbs not Used with Continuous Tenses
There are some verbs that we do not normally use with continuous tenses. We usually use the following verbs with simple tenses only (not continuous tenses):
  • hate, like, love, need, prefer, want, wish
  • believe, imagine, know, mean, realize, recognize, remember, suppose, understand
  • belong, concern, consist, contain, depend, involve, matter, need, owe, own, possess
  • appear, resemble, seem,
  • hear, see
Here are some examples:
I want a coffee. not I am wanting a coffee.
I don't believe you are right. not I am not believing you are right.
Does this pen belong to you? not Is this pen belonging to you?
It seemed wrong. not It was seeming wrong.
I don't hear anything. not I am not hearing anything.
Notice that we often use can + see/hear:
  • I can see someone in the distance.
    (not I am seeing someone in the distance.)
  • I can't hear you very well.
    (not I am not hearing you very well.)
Some verbs have two different meanings or senses. For one sense we must use a simple tense. For the other sense we can use a continuous or simple tense.
For example, the verb to think has two different senses:
  1. to believe, to have an opinion
    I think red is a sexy colour.
  2. to reflect, to use your brain to solve a problem
    I am thinking about my homework.
In sense 1 there is no real action, no activity. This sense is called "stative". In sense 2 there is a kind of action, a kind of activity. This sense is called "dynamic".
When we use the stative sense, we use a simple tense. When we use the dynamic sense, we can use a simple or continuous tense, depending on the situation.
Look at the examples in the table below:
Stative sense
(no real action)
Dynamic sense
(a kind of action)
Simple only Continuous Simple
I think she is beautiful. Be quiet. I'm thinking. I will think about this problem tomorrow.
I don't consider that he is the right man for the job. We are considering your job application and will give you our answer in a few days. We consider every job application very carefully.
This table measures 4 x 6 feet. She is measuring the room for a new carpet. A good carpenter measures his wood carefully.
Does the wine taste good? I was tasting the wine when I dropped the glass. I always taste wine before I drink it.
Mary has three children. Please phone later. We are having dinner now. We have dinner at 8pm every day.

Be and Continuous Tenses

The verb be can be an auxiliary verb (Marie is learning English) or a main verb (Marie is French). On this page we look at the verb be as a main verb.
Usually we use simple tenses with the verb be as a main verb. For example, we say:
  • London is the capital of the UK.
    (not London is being the capital of the UK.)
  • Is she beautiful?
    (not Is she being beautiful?)
  • Were you late?
    (not Were you being late?)
Sometimes, however, we can use the verb be with a continuous tense. This is when the real sense of the verb be is "act" or "behave". Also, of course, the action is temporary. Compare the examples in the table below:
Mary is a careful person. (Mary is always careful - it's her nature.) John is being careful. (John is acting carefully now, but maybe he is not always careful - we don't know.)
Is he always so stupid? (Is that his personality?) They were being really stupid. (They were behaving really stupidly at that moment.)
Andrew is not usually selfish. (It is not Andrew's character to be selfish.) Why is he being so selfish? (Why is he acting so selfishly at the moment?)
Notice that we also make a difference between "to be sick" and "to be being sick":
  • She is sick (= she is not well)
  • She is being sick (= she is vomiting)

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