How to use present perfect simple & continuous in English

We've looked at five uses for the present perfect and then another five uses for the present perfect. In this video lesson, we're going to focus on the difference between present perfect simple and continuous to help us really understand when we can use either or when we need to choose between the two...


Hello everyone! OK, in this video, we're going to look at the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. If you've watched the previous videos, you will have seen the different uses we have for the present perfect. If you haven't, go back, watch those videos first and then come back and watch this one.

The main thing to remember is we use the present perfect to show a connection between the past and now. However, some students find the difference between present perfect simple and continuous a bit confusing, so in this video we're going to look at the difference in meaning between simple and continuous and also where sometimes there is very little difference in meaning.

Before we start, just a quick note on pronunciation. Obviously in English we try to squeeze words together to make them easier to say. This is called a contraction and we use contractions with the present perfect. So instead of saying 'I have had breakfast', it's more common to say 'I've had - I've had breakfast. Or instead of 'she has had breakfast', 'she's had - she's had breakfast'.

OK, so let's look at some examples of the present perfect continuous and we'll compare them with the present perfect simple to see what the difference in meaning is. Let's have a look at these two examples: 'I've lived in London' or 'I've been living in London'. What do you think the difference in meaning is? They both do sound very similar in meaning and sometimes we use them interchangeably. You could use either one. But there is a difference in meaning and it's more common we use the continuous form to talk about a situation which is temporary and we use the simple form to talk about something which is permanent.

So you could say: 'I've lived in London all my life'. This is a permanent situation so it makes more sense to use the simple form. However, if you say: 'I've been living in London for three months' that makes more sense to use the continuous form, because it sounds more temporary. It sounds like a situation that could change.

Another use of the present perfect simple and continuous is for expressing repeated actions over a period of time. So you could say: 'I've watched a lot of TV lately'. Or, you could say: 'I've been watching a lot of TV lately. Now really there's not a lot of difference in meaning. They sound very, very similar and you wouldn't have a big problem if you used either one.

But...if you want to emphasise that this is an action which is repeated again and again and again, it does make more sense to use the continuous form. It sounds like you're emphasising. This is something I've done again and again and again. 'I've been watching a lot of TV lately'.

The main difference between using the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous is if you want to express something which is complete or not complete yet. For example, you could say: 'This author has written ten books'. This means that she has published ten books, we can read those books. Those books are...they're in the shops, they're complete, they're finished. She wrote them in the past and we can read them now in the present.

However, if you say: 'She has been writing a new book'. Is the book finished or not finished? The answer is the book is incomplete. She hasn't finished the book yet. She's still writing the book. 'She has been writing a new book'. This action started in the past, it continues to now and it will continue into the future.

Finally, if you want to talk about a recent action that has a clear result now, in the present, you can use the present perfect continuous. So for example: 'I've been running'. This is something that I started doing a short time in the past up until now. 'I've been running' - and this is the reason why I'm so hot and so tired now - 'I've been running'. Or you could say: 'I've been waiting for you for two hours!' I started waiting in the past right up to now. You only arrived now and that's why I'm angry with you now. That's the result.

But remember, you can't use the present perfect continuous with a state verb. So for example, you can't say: 'I have been having my mobile phone for three years now. In this case 'have' is a state, when you 'have' something, you own something. It's not an action. So you can't say: 'I have been having my mobile phone'. You have to say: 'I have had my mobile phone for three years now'.

However, if you use the verb 'have' as an action, for example 'to have breakfast', that's OK. For example, 'I have been having lunch', that's why I'm so full now.

OK, I hope all that makes sense. There's a lot of information there so go back and watch the video again. It will make more sense the second time. I've been talking for a while now, so I need a break and you probably need a break from me talking as well. So, like the video, subscribe to my YouTube channel and go to to learn more English and to find full courses where you can practise your English and improve your English even further. Don't forget the first course on is always free. Keep practising your English and good luck. I'll see you soon.