The present perfect continuous is one of the most interesting tenses in English, but it can be rather confusing! It is used to describe something that started in the past, and is still continuing in the present moment. In this guide, you will learn about the correct way to use this tense, as well as some common mistakes to avoid with it. Check out the quiz at the end to test your knowledge.
The present perfect continuous refers to an action that started before now, but is still ongoing – e.g. I have been playing guitar all morning (and I’m still playing now). The formula is: subject + has/have + been + present participle (root verb + ing). We often use lately, recently, all day, for years with this tense.
The present perfect continuous can be used to describe actions or events that started in the past, and are still continuing now. They have not yet finished or been completed.
I have been learning English for a few months, but I’m not fluent yet.
I have been working more on my listening and writing skills.
My teacher has been helping me with my English over the past 6 weeks.
The present perfect continuous can be used to refer to habits that have been going on for a while.
Julie has been swimming competitively since she was 7 years old.
For the past 3 months, Mark has been using onlineteachersuk.com to improve his English.
My dad has been sailing all his life.
It is important to understand the difference between the present perfect continuous and the present perfect tense. In terms of meaning, this difference can sometimes be very small. E.g. Compare: I have lived in London, Madrid and Dublin. vs. I have been living in London for 3 months. The first shows a completed action in the past, but the second indicates that the person is still living in London now.
In some contexts, the two can have the same meaning – E.g. Q: How long have you lived here? A: I have lived here 2 years. vs. Q: How long have you been living here? A: I have been living here 2 years. In both examples, the action of ‘living’ started in the past and is continuing now.
This tense is also good for describing activities that have been going on recently, with no exact start time, and not necessarily continuing in the present moment.
Recently, I have been feeling under the weather (ill).
I have been sleeping in and struggling to eat enough.
I have been taking some time off work due to this.
We form this tense using the following formula:
Subject + has/have + been + present participle (root form of the verb + ing).
Here are some examples that have been illustrated in colour for you:
I have been playing the flute for a few months now.
John has been tidying his room more lately.
Susie and Lee have been dating for a year.
There can be affirmative (positive), negative, and questioning functions of the present perfect continuous. Let’s take a look below!
How to conjugate verbs in the present perfect continuous tense in the affirmative:
|Affirmative||‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||I have been playing||I have been making||I have been seeing|
|2nd person singular||You have been playing||You have been making||You have been seeing|
|3rd person singular||He/she/it has been playing||He/she/it has been making||He/she/it has been seeing|
|1st person plural||We have been playing||We have been making||We have been seeing|
|2nd person plural||You have been playing||You have been making||You have been seeing|
|3rd person plural||They have been playing||They have been making||They have been seeing|
To form the negative function of the present perfect continuous tense, place ‘not’ after ‘to have’.
Li has not been trying her best with her schoolwork this term.
How to conjugate verbs in the present perfect continuous tense in the negative:
|Negative||‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||I have not been playing||I have not been making||I have not been seeing|
|2nd person singular||You have not been playing||You have not been making||You have not been seeing|
|3rd person singular||He/she/it has not been playing||He/she/it has not been making||He/she/it has not been seeing|
|1st person plural||We have not been playing||We have not been making||We have not been seeing|
|2nd person plural||You have not been playing||You have not been making||You have not been seeing|
|3rd person plural||They have not been playing||They have not been making||They have not been seeing|
To form the interrogative (questioning) function of the present continuous tense, simply flip the subject with the form of ‘to have’.
Affirmative: Journalists have been making an effort to validate their sources.
Becomes interrogative: Have journalists been making an effort to validate their sources?
How to conjugate verbs in the present perfect continuous in the interrogative:
|Interrogative||‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||Have I been playing||Have I been making||Have I been seeing|
|2nd person singular||Have you been playing||Have you been making||Have you been seeing|
|3rd person singular||Has he/she/it been playing||Has he/she/it been making||Has he/she/it been seeing|
|1st person plural||Have we been playing||Have we been making||Have we been seeing|
|2nd person plural||Have you been playing||Have you been making||Have you been seeing|
|3rd person plural||Have you been playing||Have they been making||Have they been seeing|
The present perfect continuous does not usually work in situations where we are describing a result. Instead, we use the past simple or present perfect.
Andy was very happy this morning when his boss has been promoting him. (incorrect)
Andy was very happy this morning when his boss promoted him. (past simple – correct)
Our netball team has been achieving promotion to the highest league. (incorrect)
Our netball team has achieved promotion to the highest league. (present perfect – correct)
Non-continuous verbs are a class of verbs that cannot be used with any continuous tense. These are usually verbs that describe things you cannot physically see someone doing.
Mixed verbs are another class of verbs that have multiple meanings, tending to carry a more abstract meaning.
Here are some examples of these two classes: to see, to appear, to want, to seem.
In general, the present perfect continuous cannot be used with non-continuous or mixed verbs.
Our family have been owning this house for 40 years. (incorrect)
Our family have owned this house for 40 years. (present perfect – correct)
I have been having a cold for a week now. (incorrect)
I have had a cold for a week now. (present perfect – correct)
Often, learners will say something using the present perfect continuous where they should use the present continuous instead.
I have been playing football with my friends right now. Can you pick me up later? (incorrect)
I am playing football with my friends right now. Can you pick me up later? (correct)
Turn that music down! I have been reading my book. (incorrect)
Turn that music down! I am reading my book. (correct)
Another common mix-up is when learners use the past perfect continuous in place of the present perfect continuous. This often happens when describing current situations, where a past narrative tone is mistakenly used.
Finally, my boyfriend had been opening up to me more about his feelings. (incorrect)
Finally, my boyfriend has been opening up to me more about his feelings. (correct)
When using the present perfect continuous tense, adverbs such as ‘only, always, still, never’ can be placed between ‘to have’ and ‘been’.
However, it is easy to make the mistake of placing them later in the sentence, which sounds less natural to a native speaker in most conversational situations.
My favourite band have been touring for one week only in the UK. (incorrect)
My favourite band have only been touring for one week in the UK. (correct)
Despite a cut hand, Dave has been still playing guitar this week. (incorrect)
Despite a cut hand, Dave has still been playing guitar this week. (correct)