The present perfect continuous (also called the present perfect progressive) is a verb form that we use to describe an action that started in the past and either recently finished or is still continuing. Although only about .7% of verbs in speech are in the past perfect, this verb tense can be very useful in certain situations.
Continue reading to learn how to form the present perfect continuous and when to use it, including tons of examples and charts!
Just to avoid confusion, continuous and progressive are just different names for this same thing. In some countries, one term is more common than the other, but continuous is more common overall, so we use that term.
Using the Present Perfect Continuous Tense in English
The present perfect continuous is a little bit tricky. If you find a website that claims to explain it in just a few sentences, you should be suspicious. We use this tense in a number of different situations, and it can have different meanings in those different situations. We can look at three common ways that the present perfect progressive is used:
to describe new routines,
to describe recently completed actions, and
for actions that are still continuing.
New Routines and Habits
In general, we use the simple present to talk about routines and habits: If I go jogging every day or a couple of times a week, I can simple say, I jog, right?
But what if this is a new habit? Maybe I have gone jogging every day for the past two weeks, so it is a routine, but it might feel funny to just say I jog. I am a jogger. In situations like this, where we want to demonstrate that a habit or routine is somewhat new, the present perfect continuous is the form that we want to use.
I have been jogging.
Here are a few more examples:
This has been a difficult month. She has been working long hours.
I’ve been going to the gym lately.
We’ve been cooking at home more recently
Recently Completed Actions
We also use the present perfect continuous to talk about actions that have just recently ended, especially when there is still evidence of that action. For example, after you paint, you may still have paint on your hands. To explain this, you would use the present perfect progressive:
Sorry, my hands are dirty. I've just been painting.
Take a look at these other examples:
The house is a mess because we've just been redecorating.
Sorry, I'm all sweaty. I've been exercising.
Why are you two crying? Have you been fighting?
Notice that in each of these examples, there is sensory evidence (the mess, sweating, crying) of the recently completed actions (painting, exercising, fighting). This is almost always the case when using the present perfect continuous in this way.
Actions Still Happening
This is probably the most common way that this verb form is used. This is very important: When we see the present perfect continuous with for or since, the action started at a specific time in the past and is still happening. Here are some examples:
Michele has been living in Boston since June.
Juana's been writing her thesis for 6 months.
In the first example, Michele still lives in Boston. In the second example, Juana still works at Apple. Again, when you see for or since with this verb tense, the action or situation described by the main verb is still continuing. See Signal Words, below, for more information about how we use for and since.
Here are more examples with for and since:
Cara's been working at FedEx for 3 years now.
I've been thinking about changing jobs for a long time.
We've been developing a new strategic plan since late last year.
You have been traveling back and forth to California since you got married, right?
Table: Forming the Past Perfect continuous
Forming the past perfect continuous isn’t difficult. You will always use the same formula:
have/has + been + VERBing
You could also think of it as simple steps, too:
First, choose either have (if the subject is plural or the pronouns I, you, we, or they) or has (if the subject is a singular noun, he, she, or it).
Then use been.
Then use your main verb with -ing.
Here is the verb work conjugated into the present perfect continuous.
|1st person||I ||have been working||we ||have been working|
|2nd person||you ||have been working||you ||have been working|
|3rd person||he ||has been working||they ||has been working|
|she ||has been working|
|it ||has been working|
Notice that we can see both the perfect and the continuous aspect in this form. Have been is the perfect aspect. Been verb-ing is continuous aspect.
Other Forms of the Present Perfect continuous
You always have two helping verbs in the present perfect continuous: have/has and been. To make a negative, simply put not in between them!
She has not been living here for a long time.
I have not been reading much recently.
They have not been working late.
Because the present perfect continuous uses so many words, we often use contractions with not to make it a little shorter:
She hasn't been living here for a long time.
I haven't been reading much recently.
To make a question, simply put has/have before the subject.
Has she been living here for a long time?
Have you been working out lately? You look great!
What have you been reading?
When have you been going to bed lately?
Making passive sentences with more complex verb forms like the present perfect continuous is extremely uncommon and almost always awkward in English. We really recommend that you rephrase a sentence to avoid creating such an awkward sentence.
We have been being observed a lot at work.
See the awkwardness in the sentence above? If you really need to make a passive sentence in this verb form, we often use the get passive to avoid the unnatural combination of been being.
Put get in the present perfect progressive (has been getting, have been getting) and then the perfect form of the main verb.
We have been getting observed a lot at work lately.
I've been getting kicked off the internet every 5 minutes.
Recently or Lately
When we are talking about new routines and habits, it’s common to use the word recently or lately, which both have the same meaning in this sense. There is some flexibility in where we can put these words in a sentence, but the beginning or end of the clause is a safe bet.
Take a look at these examples:
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Aunt Maude.
We've been having second thoughts about moving recently.
We can use the adverb just to emphasize that an action was completed in the immediate past, right before now. Because the present perfect continuous can talk about actions that stopped right before now, it is common to use just with it. Have a look at these examples:
Don't mind these ridiculous old clothes. I've just been gardening.
Hey Paul! I can't believe you're here. We've just been talking about you!
We already said, the most important signal words with the present perfect progressive are for and since. They are important because they change the meaning. Whenever you see for and since with this verb form, you know the action is still true.
When we use for, we specify the duration of the action. This could be the number of minutes or weeks or years. It could also be a more general phrase like a really long time or a little while.
People have been living on this land for thousands of years.
It's been raining for hours
I've been studying English for half my life!
While for is used with a duration, since is used to specify the point in time when the action began. That could be a time or date. It can also be another event described with a clause, like since I was a child.
People have been living on this land since about 800 B.C.E.
It's been raining since noon.
I've been studying English since I was a child.