The kids can’t go to school because of the pandemic, so this week I’ve been “homeschooling” and It’s not so easy to find an undisturbed minute to write. On the plus side it’s a great time to use the present perfect continuous! Everyone’s routines have been turned upside down. Some people, especially in the medical profession, have been working flat out and having to deal with exhaustion, frustration and overwork. Other people have found themselves at home with nothing to do, or have found out that, in fact, it’s not their kids’ teacher’s fault that their offspring can’t do advanced calculus yet.
Whatever we are doing, we can all play a role in achieving the best possible outcome for all of us. Even us thumb twiddlers and Skypers stuck at home are stopping the virus from spreading. In true English style let’s keep our upper lip stiff, put the kettle on and look on the bright side of life. Worse things happen at sea you know! Enough idioms, it‘s time for some grammar.
Two weeks ago we found out that you can use the present perfect simple to show off. You can talk about your achievements, you can seek attention or talk about life experiences, as long as you don’t use a finished time, like “yesterday”. Let’s look at some recent achievements:
- Scientist have cured two cases of HIV by using a stem cell transplant
- For the first time ever, a non-English language film, “Parasite” from South Korea, has won best picture at the Oscars.
- The number of Africa’s critically endangered black rhinos has risen by nearly 800 over a six-year period.
- The fires in Australia have gone out.
With present perfect simple we are interested in the present result of the action: two people are free from the HIV virus, the Black Rhino is no longer in such danger of becoming extinct, Australia is recovering from the bush fires and you don’t have to speak English to win “best film”.
Present perfect continuous, on the other hand, does not focus on the result of the activity, but the activity itself. We can use it, for example, to talk about how people have been dealing with the business, venue and school closures in Zurich and abroad:
- Teachers have been giving lessons via online conferencing services (tomorrow I’ve got a yoga lesson via Zoom!).
- The Human Jukebox has been recording personalized messages to send to people that you can’t visit on their birthday.
- Further afield, in the US, this lady has been making her customers quarantine cakes! I could do with the chocolate one right now btw!
The present perfect continuous here doesn’t express a finished result. These activities are seen as ongoing and in progress from the past until the present. We don’t know if the teachers have finished their lessons or not, and it is possible that the lady from America has decided to stop making cakes, but that is not important in these sentences.
“Where’s the beer?” I hear you ask. Let’s have a look at the present perfect simple vs present perfect continuous beer demonstration:
Someone has been drinking my beer!!
Someone has drunk my beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“Has drunk” means that your beer is definitely gone. “Has been drinking” means that at least some of the beer has gone. Maybe (but obviously not in the first picture) it has gone, but that’s not important. The horrifying fact that someone has been drinking your beer without your permission is the only thing you are interested in when you say “someone’s been drinking my beer!”.
A good clue that you can use present perfect continuous is if you can clearly see the results of the activity in the present.
In my flat the kitchen is sticky, I’m sticky, and feel strangely full, so I can say “My son has been cooking flapjack”.
The door handle of our flat keeps on falling off. I can say “I have been doing some DIY.“
Native speakers usually use present perfect continuous when talking about “how long”. For example, “I’ve been writing this blog since the kids went to visit their dad”. The exception to this is if it refers to a state. For example, “I’ve been here for three minutes”, not, “I’ve been being here for three minutes”, and “I’ve known her for three years” not “I’ve been knowing her for three years” (Though of course we all know that stative verbs should generally not be used with continuous tenses *ahem*)
OOOooooo I could write about the present perfect continuous forever more, but I think that’s enough for now. It’s a difficult tense to pin down, because you can often use present perfect simple or continuous with a microscopic difference in meaning, if any. I have a feeling I might come back to it in the future.
Until next time, I wish you and your family good health and happiness, and don’t forget: If you leave the house, someone might decide to drink your beer. Don’t risk it!
See you soon!