Sophie is working in Dubai but Amy was hoping she may be able to ask her a favour.

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We use the present perfect simple (have/has + past participle) or present perfect continuous (have/has + been + -ing) to talk about a state or an activity that has a link to the present.

Oh, the present perfect! It’s quite tricky!

Well, no, it’s quite logical, but it does have different uses. We often use present perfect for talking about something which happened in the past which is important now.

My Chinese teacher has given me some homework. (= I have the homework to do now.)
I’ve forgotten. (= I can’t remember now.)
She’s broken her leg. (= Her leg is still broken now.)

We also use present perfect with just for talking about a recent action.

Oliver’s just made a cake.

So that’s important now because I could have some cake?

Yes, that could be the reason. But with just for recent actions we usually use present perfect, anyway.

OK, but why can’t I say ‘Ollie’s been making a cake’?

You could, but then the focus would be more on the action rather than the result. Maybe you are explaining why the kitchen is in a mess. We use the present perfect simple more when there is a result in the present (like the cake) and the present perfect continuous more when the action is important.

Umm, OK. So you would say ‘She’s been travelling a lot recently.’

Exactly. Because we’re more interested in the action than the result.

Is the present perfect only used for recent events?

No, not at all. We also use it for life experiences which happened at any time in the past. The person’s life, which continues in the present, is the link to the present.

She’s won an award.
Sophie has been to Berlin before.

So, she could have been to Berlin last month or ten years ago?

Exactly, we don’t know when and it isn’t important. If you wanted to say when, you would have to use the past simple: Sophie went to Berlin ten years ago.

We also use the present perfect for actions or states that are unfinished.

Your mum’s been writing her blog for years now, hasn’t she?

She is still writing the blog now, so the action isn’t complete.

Could I say ‘She’s written her blog for years’?

No. We usually use the present perfect continuous for talking about the length of time something goes on for, with phrases like for years, for a long time, etc.

What about using still, already and yet?

We use already to talk about something which has been done, and usually this is surprising to the speaker.

Wow, that was quick! You’ve finished your homework already.

Yet is mainly used in questions and negatives to talk about something which hasn’t happened, but which you thought would happen in the past and you expect to happen in the future.

I haven’t had time yet.
Have you seen
her new blog yet?

We use still to talk about something which is going on longer than you expect.

They’ve been doing things with that computer for ages, but they still haven’t fixed it.

OK, I feel like I’ve been understanding more about the present perfect today.

Oh, sorry, you can’t say ‘I’ve been understanding’. Do you remember when we looked at the present continuous? There are certain verbs, called state verbs, which we don’t usually use in the continuous form – verbs for talking about emotions, thinking, existing, appearing, possession and the senses.

Oh, yes. You gave me a list of them.

That’s right, they’re in the Grammar Snack on the present continuous.

Right, I’ll look at them again. Well, we’ve been talking for ages

For a few minutes!

Yes, but I’ve learned a lot.

Excellent – you used present perfect continuous with a length of time and present perfect simple with a result!

 

Total votes: 912
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Discussion

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Comments

Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 19 January, 2017 - 03:11

Hi Zahir. Don’t worry – there’s a lot to know about the present perfect. As well as the video, make sure you read the explanation just below it. This will help you to understand the examples in the video. You can also find a more technical explanation on our LearnEnglish site for adult learners.

The present perfect has several meanings and uses, so it takes time to understand it and know how to use it well. :) Have you tried the exercises on this page yet?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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shamim's picture
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shamim 27 December, 2016 - 16:55

I have a question.
We use "present continuous" when we talk about things happening in a period around now, and we can use "present perfect" for these things too!!
You are working hard today / Susan is working this week
I have drunk 4 cups of coffee today / I have seen Tom this morning
Can you help me :-( I don't understand when use present continuous and when use present perfect!!! With today/ this morning/ this week and etc.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 28 December, 2016 - 22:10

Hi shamim. The main difference is time: the present continuous means ‘now’ or ‘right now’ in time, and the present perfect means ‘so far’ or ‘until now’. That means the present continuous action must be continuing, but a present perfect action may be continuing or may be finished. Let’s look at some examples.

  • I’m reading Harry Potter at the moment.
  • I’ve been reading Harry Potter this week (= since Monday).
  • You’re working hard today.
  • You’ve been working hard today.

The present perfect continuous is often used when an action continuing until now has a result in the present. For example: ‘You look tired. You’ve been working hard today. Take a rest!’

So that’s one difference between them. Another is that the present perfect continuous is especially used when the action is ending or changing.  

  • I’ve been reading this book all week and I’ve nearly finished it.

As well as the time period being finished or unfinished, you also need to consider whether the action is finished or unfinished. In your example of ‘I have drunk four cups of coffee today’, the action is finished and repeated (in an unfinished time period – today). That means it must be present perfect simple, not present continuous. Although present continuous can be used for some repeated actions (e.g. ‘He’s cleaning the windows at the moment’ or ‘I’m drinking a lot of coffee today’), the action is continuous and unfinished.

For ‘I have seen Tom this morning’, it’s another finished event, so the present continuous isn’t suitable. If it's no longer the morning and it's now afternoon or evening, the past simple is more likely for this (‘I saw Tom’).

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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shamim 29 December, 2016 - 19:25

Dear Jonathan, Thanks for your answer.
To make sure that I understand correctly! In a period around now, the present continuous is used when an action isn't finished and It continues, But the present perfect is used when an action is finished.
Yes? :-)

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Mabdelaziz 7 November, 2016 - 12:23

Hi Jonathan ,
I hope everything is going well with you.
Could you please explain to me why we should say "We have known each other for years."
However as I understand We usually use the present perfect continuous for talking about the length of time something goes on for, with phrases like for years, for a long time,

Also I have something else I want to clarify it.we say"Sorry I am late! Have you been waiting long?
In my opinion we should use the present simple perfect here I/O continuous because the state of waiting is not existing any longer because his/her partner has already come.

Thank you so much for your usual support.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 10 November, 2016 - 03:32

You’re right, but there’s a set of verbs that can’t be used in the present perfect continuous (or any other continuous tense). These are called state verbs – verbs for talking about emotions, thinking, existing, appearing, possession and the senses. 'Know' is one of these verbs. There’s a list of them on our present continuous page, so have a look.

In your second example, I know what you mean. You have arrived, so your friend isn’t waiting any longer. However, as the waiting just ended a moment ago, and there is some clear result in the present moment, the present perfect continuous is used. Here’s another example: you go for a run outside, and when you get back home your mother or father says “You look tired”. You can say “Yes, I’ve been running”, even though the running is finished.

Does that make sense? :)

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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hgsmf 24 August, 2016 - 03:08

Today,I and my family have been to the supermarket. I have been buying food with low calories and healthy because I want to lose weight. Also, I have been learning English . That‘s all!

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shamim 9 August, 2016 - 17:45

Today I was busy all day...I have had many homeworks since last week, I have been searcing for an article, I have been helped my classmate and I have learnt him math for 3 hours. I have cleand my room, I have just tacken a shower.
My mum has been cooking my favourit dinner and she has been wearing a dress that my dad likes.
we haven't eaten dinner yet we have been waiting for my sister, she hasn't arrived yet.

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tangpd01 28 July, 2016 - 17:36

Hi Jonathn, Could you help me please. Somehow the video can't get going. I used to be able to play the video with my old laptop. But with this Win 10, I press the PLAY button, but nothig happened. Do I need to download a software to play the video? Thank you very much in antipitation. Sincerely yours, Wenjie

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JoEditor's picture
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JoEditor 28 July, 2016 - 20:37

Hi Wenjie,
I've checked the video and it's working fine so I think the problem is on your computer. Can you watch videos on other websites on your computer? You shouldn't have to download new software to watch a video but I'm afraid it's better if you ask somebody near you there to help you. 
Good luck! We hope it'll work again soon for you.
Best wishes, Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens Team)
P.S. Jonathan is having a holiday at the moment - but he'll be back in September! ;) 

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tangpd01 29 July, 2016 - 04:31

Hi Joanna,
Thank you so much for your kind reply. I'll try to figure out on my side. The materials in this website are just excellent!!!! Very much impressed and many thanks.
Best wishes to your team.
Wenjie

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clp920 23 June, 2016 - 18:17

Hello, LearnEnglish Teens Team! I have some questions. Today I have watched an episode for learning English and there was a person who said: "Hello. I spoke to your secretary today." Why he didn't say: "I have spoken to your secretary today." Could you please explain me this tricky thing: by rules we have to use present perfect because today is not over yet? Is it a mistake in the episode? By the way, "Today I have watched an episode" - is it right?

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 24 June, 2016 - 11:38

Hi! Thanks for your question and getting us all thinking.

Actually, it's also correct to say 'I've spoken to your secretary today', as you suggest. If this were an exam question, they would probably say that 'I've spoken' is the correct answer. However, in real English use, it's totally acceptable to say 'I spoke', especially in American English (compared to British English).

It seems that the past simple is gradually becoming used more in present perfect sentences. You might hear people saying things like these:

  • My friend just messaged me.
  • Did you have lunch already?
  • I didn't receive it yet.

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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