How to tell the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous in English?
Making the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous is not always easy. When talking about past actions or recent events that have an influence on the present moment, we use the present perfect simple to emphasize the present result of the past action. The present perfect continu makes it possible to insist on the unfolding, the duration of the action. It is used to talk about actions started in the past and which last until the present moment.
Thanks to our simple and clear explanations, you will no longer confuse these two English tenses. Lingolia helps you tell the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous and offers you exercises to practice.
The present perfect is built according to the following model: have in the present + verb in the past participle.
The present perfect establishes a link between the present and the past.
The present perfect is constructed according to the following model:
- Have in the present + verb in the past participle.
- To form the past participle of a regular verb, simply add the verb ending -ed to the verb base.
Eg: He has played chess.
He has not played chess.
Has he played chess?
As for irregular past participles, they are found in the third column of irregular verbs.
Eg: You have bought a car.
You have not bought a car.
Have you bought a car?
The present perfect establishes a link between the present and the past. This is why it consists of a present form (the auxiliary) and a past form (the past participle of the verb).
The present perfect allows first of all to make the present assessment of a past action.
E.g.: I have painted my bike. (So it is red now.)
I have already seen this movie. (So I already know the story.)
In this case, it does not matter when the action was done (unlike the past tense). What counts is its result in the present.
The present perfect is therefore often associated with adverbs that allow us to take stock.
Eg: already, yet, not yet.
The present perfect is also used when the action took place in the past but is not detached from the present moment. Several cases are possible:
- The action just happened.
- The action is so close to the moment of the utterance that it is not detached from it. The enunciator does not establish a break with the present moment.
Eg: I've just finished this exercise.
What was true in the past is still true in the present.
Eg: I have worked a lot recently / these days.
I have been working a lot for some time / these days.
(This is still the case today, hence the use of the present tense in French.)
I have never played golf before.
I have never played golf before/until now.
Have you seen John this morning?
Have you seen John this morning?
(The morning is not over yet.)
But in the afternoon, on the contrary, the following sentence will be pronounced.
Eg: Did you see John this morning?
(The use of the past tense expresses a break between the past and the present: the morning is over.)
Adverbs that express a link between past and present are often associated with the present perfect.
Ever / never;
Over the past few months;
So far. The action started in the past, and continues in the present.
Eg: How long have you lived in London?
How long have you lived in London?
I have lived here for three years / since 1997.
I have lived here for 3 years / since 1997. (I lived here and I still live here.)
I have always read a lot.
I have always read a lot. (I have read and still read a lot.)
Continuity is expressed by the following time markers:
- How long;
- For (followed by an idea of duration);
- Since (followed by the mention of a starting point).
If the French compound past has the same construction as the present perfect (auxiliary avoir followed by a past participle), the two tenses are not equivalent.
Eg: Yesterday I played tennis.
Yesterday, I played tennis.
(There is a break here with the present: it was yesterday, I am not playing today. We are interested in the precise moment when the action took place, hence the use of the past tense in English.)
Eg: I have played tennis all my life.
I've played tennis all my life.
(I have played in the past and I continue to play, hence the use of the present perfect.)
Eg: I'm tired, I played tennis.
I'm tired, I've played tennis.
(We are not interested in the moment of the action, but in the fact that the action took place.)