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Also Known As: Present Perfect Progressive Verb Tense

Present perfect continuous is like a mashup of present perfect and present continuous. Remember, in speaking of verb tenses, “perfect” means “complete”.

However, here’s the mind boggling part: “continuous” means “progressive”, or making progress.

Those ideas seem to be direct opposites, don’t they? Oh, English. You are so weird!

Never fear, though. Help is here! In this article, we’ll outline how this finicky verb tense works. The short explanation is this: the present perfect continuous tense is most commonly used to show that an action started in the past and is continuing up until this moment.

To Form the Present Perfect Continuous Tense

The present perfect continuous tense is formed by combining has or have with “been” and the present participle

As in other tenses, we use has been in the case of third person singular pronouns such as he, she, or it.

When we use the pronouns I and you, have been is used. Have been is also used with the plural pronouns we or they.

To create a question with the present perfect tense, switch the sentence position of the words has been or have been and the noun or pronoun.

To create the negative, insert the appropriate negative article between has been or have been and the present participle

Statement Question Negative 
I have been cooking for three hours.  Have I been cooking for three hours?  I have not been cooking for three hours. 
You have been cooking for three hours, Have you been cooking for three hours?  You have not been cooking for three hours. 
She has been cooking for three hours. Has she been cooking for three hours?  She has not been cooking for three hours. 
He has been cooking for three hours.  Has he been cooking for three hours? He has not been cooking for three hours.
It has been cooking for three hours.  Has it been cooking for three hours? It has not been cooking for three hours. 
They have been cooking for three hours.  Have they been cooking for three hours? They have not been cooking for three hours. 
We have been cooking for three hours.  Have we been cooking for three hours? We have not been cooking for three hours. 

When to Use the Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Typically, the present perfect continuous tense is used to speak about an action that has been happening, starting in the past and continuing into the present. This is often used to emphasize the duration, or amount of time, an action has been happening.

Two examples of when this would be needed are to express duration from the past up until now, and to express an event or action that has been going on recently or lately. Below are elaborations on both uses, followed by examples.

Duration From the Past Up Until Now

The present perfect continuous verb tense is used with an expression of time to say that something has been happening for a certain duration, beginning in the past (at a time specified in the sentence) up until now.

In addition,  present perfect continuous may be used to express exhaustion or frustration that an event has taken a long time, or it may just be a general explanation of an amount of time taken to perform an action. Read on for examples.

Examples 

She has been working on that book for the past two years. 

I have been cooking since this morning. 

Has he been working in Mexico the last six months? 

We have not been swimming since yesterday. 

What have you been doing all day? 

Recently/Lately

In this case, the present perfect continuous verb tense is also used to express something that has been happening starting in the past and continuing up until now.

However, when a symbol of duration (like the phrases “since yesterday”, “the last thirty minutes”, “the past two years”, “since this morning”, etc.) is not being used, words that express a more general duration, like “lately” or “recently”, should be found nearby. 

There is an important difference here between past perfect continuous and the present perfect tense. With present perfect, time cannot be demonstrated as specific (like “two hours”, “the past nine months”, or “ten o’clock”) but must remain unspecified. 

When using past perfect continuous, it is perfectly appropriate to use either specified or non-specified times identifying the past or the present. 

Examples

I have been feeling sick recently. 

Lately, we have been studying in Germany. 

Her grandmother has been doing well. 

What has he been doing? 

They have not been sleeping well. 

Tips on Understanding Social Context When Using the Present Perfect Continuous Verb Tense

Be careful using the present perfect continuous verb tense, as sometimes it can have social connotations that may unintentionally insult others.

For example, if you were to ask someone, “Have you been feeling alright?”, you may unintentionally be making a comment on their appearance or demeanor. When you use the present perfect continuous tense in this context, you could be implying that they look sickly or are acting sick, which may insult the person you’re speaking to.

Beware of comments on the appearance or demeanor of others, as using the present perfect continuous in this way implies that there is something visible or evident about them to suggest this.

This may be harmless with a question like, “Have you been going to the movies often?”, as it makes no assumptions about action or physical appearance. But if you were to ask, “have you been getting enough sun?”, then this may suggest that they look pale or unwell.

Important Note About Non-Continuous Verbs

Using a continuous tense is dependent on the kind of verb being used because there are quite a few verbs that simply do not work in a continuous tense.

Those that do work are verbs that you can see or hear being done. They are action verbs, and they take place on a visible or audible level. One test to assure that these verbs “work” is to try them with the phrase can + see/hear. Let’s look at a few examples of this:

I can see someone jump, so jump can be continuous.
I can hear someone yell, so yell can be continuous.
I can see someone faint, so faint can be continuous.
I can not see OR hear someone remember.
I can not see OR hear someone have.


Verbs that are non-continuous include those that are feelings, thoughts, senses other than seeing and hearing, convey communication, or show some other state of being.

On occasion, verbs will be mixed, which conveys that they have more than one meaning. For example, the word “have” can mean ownership. You would not say “Katie has been having a cat for the last two years.” That would be incorrect.

You could say, however, that “Katie had been having fun with her cat until her dog ran in the room.” In this context, having means “experiencing”, and it can be used as a continuous verb.

When you are unable to use a continuous verb tense, you will need to revert to the simple present tense instead.  

Using Contractions with the Present Perfect Continuous Tense 

Let’s be honest – the present perfect continuous tense uses A LOT of words. Sometimes you just need to cut out part of those long phrases.

Often in informal writing and speaking, the present perfect continuous tense is contracted to make it less of a mouthful. This is not always necessary, but here are examples of how to form contractions in the present perfect continuous verb tense.

Original Form  Form With Contractions
I have been waiting for two hours. I’ve been waiting for two hours. 
You have been waiting for two hours. You’ve been waiting for two hours. 
She has been waiting for two hours.  She’s been waiting for two hours. 
He has been waiting for two hours.  He’s been waiting for two hours. 
It has been waiting for two hours.  It’s been waiting for two hours. 
We have been waiting for two hour. We’ve been waiting for two hours. 
They have been waiting for two hours.  They’ve been waiting for two hours. 

Examples From Song Lyrics

We can find examples of present perfect continuous tense verbs in everything from rock to children’s music to music with lyrics too explicit to include here.

Most of us can relate to the refrain in “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots: I been thinking too much.”

Led Zepplin’s classic “Since I’ve Been Loving U” is filled with with present perfect continuous verbs, starting with the title and going on with lines like: I’ve really been the best of fools; I’ve been trying, Lord, let me tell you; I’ve been working from seven to eleven every night; Since I’ve been loving you; & Said I’ve been loving you.  

Just before Mike Tyson punches Zach Galifianakis in the first Hangover movie, he is jammin’ out and singing Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight”: I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord, and I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh lord.

And, Stevie Wonder emphasizes his love in the song “That Girl” with lines like: I’ve been hurting for a long time, and you’ve been playing for a long time, you know it’s true; I’ve been holding for a long time, and you’ve been running for a long time, it’s time to do what we have to do. He goes on to sing, “She says her love has been crying out but her lover hasn’t heard but what she doesn’t realize is that I’ve listened to every word.”

In Disney’s Enchanted, Giselle sings, “I’ve been dreaming of true love’s kiss.” 

But in the world of earworms, we’ll leave you with this song that will play over and over in your head after you read this – One Republic’s “Counting Stars”. Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep/dreaming about the things we could be/but baby, I’ve been, I’ve been praying hard/said no more counting dollars/we’ll be, we’ll be counting stars.

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