Present Perfect Simple or Present Perfect Progressive

Introduction

The present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive are both present tenses. Both can express an action that started in the past and is either ongoing or just completed. However, the two tenses have a slightly different focus: the present perfect simple refers to a recently completed action while the present perfect progressive is used to talk about ongoing actions and to emphasise their duration.

Learn the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive in English grammar with Lingolia’s tense comparison charts. Then test yourself in the exercises.

Example

I am a receptionist at a nice little hotel next to my house. I’ve been working here since 2010 but I’ve been a receptionist for much longer, so I’ve welcomed many tourists. I’ve never worked in such a big hotel before, so it can be a bit stressful.

Today I’ve been very busy. I have been writing e-mails all day. I’ve already written ten e-mails. Now I’ve just sat down for my break – I haven’t eaten lunch yet so I’m starving! Recently I’ve been trying to eat more healthily, so I’m having a salad.

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What’s the difference between present perfect simple and present perfect progressive?

The key aspect of the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive is that they talk about actions that started in the past and are still ongoing in the present. This means that both tenses can be used to answer the question "how long?" in relation to ongoing actions. However their focus is slightly different:

The present perfect simple:

  • is used with stative verbs as well as action verbs
  • focuses on the result of the action
  • talks about recently completed actions or experiences that have a connection to the present

The present perfect progressive:

  • is only used with action verbs
  • emphasises the duration of the action
  • talks about temporary ongoing actions or new habits

The table below provides an overview of the differences between the English present perfect simple and present perfect progressive tenses.

Present Perfect Simple Present Perfect Progressive

duration of ongoing activities with stative verbs (how long)

Example:
I’ve been a receptionist for much longer.

duration of ongoing activities with active verbs (how long)

Example:
I have been working here since 2010.

focus on the result of an action

Example:
I have already written ten emails.

focus on the duration of an action

Example:
I’ve been writing emails all day.

recently completed actions with a connection to the present

Example:
I’ve just sat down for my break.

temporary ongoing actions and new habits

Example:
Recently, I’ve been trying to eat more healthily.

experiences (ever/never)

Example:
I’ve never worked in such a big hotel before.

negative: not since the last occurrence (yet)

Example:
I haven’t eaten anything yet.

Signal Words for Present Perfect vs. Present Perfect Progressive

Signal words can help us to recognise which tense to use in a sentence. Below is a list of signal words for the present perfect simple and present perfect progressive tenses and example sentences. Some signal words are used with both tenses.

Present Perfect Simple Present Perfect Progressive
Signal Word Example Signal Word Example
how long? How long have you been here? how long? How long have you been doing sport?
for I’ve been married for six years. for He’s been doing judo for six months.
since She’s been a firefighter since 2013. since I’ve been playing tennis since I was a child.
already I’ve already finished my homework. all day I’ve been cleaning all day.
ever Have you ever tried sushi? recently Recently, I’ve been trying to eat healthily.
just He has only just arrived. lately Lately I’ve been doing yoga in the mornings
never I’ve never been abroad before.
... times We have visited London several times.
(not) yet Sorry I haven’t called yet.

Info

We can usually use either Present Perfect Progressive or Present Perfect Simple with the verbs live and work without changing the meaning.

Example:
I have been working/living here since 2010.
I have worked/lived here since 2010.

Verbs that are not used in the progressive form

The following verbs are not generally used in a progressive form.

  • stative verbs
    be*, cost, fit, mean, remain, suit
    Example:
    The tourists have been to the hotel before.
    not: The tourists have been being to the hotel before.
  • verbs that indicate possession/belonging
    belong, have*

    Example:
    One tourist has had a headache for two days.
  • verbs of sensory perception
    feel, hear, see*, smell, taste, touch
    Example:
    I haven’t heard the telephone ring.
  • verbs that express feelings
    hate, hope, like, love, prefer, regret, want, wish
    Example:
    None of the tourists has regretted staying in our hotel.
  • verbs of thought and recognition
    believe, know, realise, recognise, seem, think*, understand
    Example:
    Have you thought about it?

*change of meaning

Some stative verbs also have a progressive form, but the meaning of the progressive form is sightly different.

stative form progressive form
verb meaning example meaning example
be state He’s been happy ever since he started working at the hotel. deliberate behaviour She’s been being silly all morning.
have possession The hotel has had a pool for 2 years. in particular expressions He’s been having fun with tourists for years.

see

sight I’ve seen a lot of hotels. be together with somebody Nigel and Beatrice have been seeing each other for two years.

think

believe I’ve thought that for a long time. contemplate, consider Recently I’ve been thinking about moving abroad.

Conjugation

For information on the conjugation of these two tenses, see:

For a visual overview of the simple and progressive aspects check out Lingolia’s tenses timeline.