So an example sentence would look like this:

Lola has been working at this company for 6 years.

Lola started working at the company 6 years ago, and is still working there now. However, we can also use the construction of the present perfect and say ‘Lola has worked at this company for six years’. So why does the present perfect continuous (PPC) exist, then? Why do we need to have another tense, when we can use the present perfect (PP)? Well, there are some cases where we need to be clear. Look at the following two sentences:

I have been reading that book.

I have read that book.

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Can you see what the difference might be? The first, using the PPC, indicates that I am STILL reading the book — it’s an action which is in progress. Remember that it communicates a duration up to now. The second sentence, using the PP, is most likely expressing just an experience we have had. We read the book, in the past, and we are just telling you about our experience of reading the book. It has no relation to now. Here are two more examples:

Susan has been learning Mandarin. (She is still learning Mandarin)

Susan has learned Mandarin. (She learnt Mandarin in the past and we are speaking of the experience Susan had — it’s even possible that we mean Susan now speaks Mandarin fluently, as it is a completely finished action)

Another use of the present perfect continuous is to talk about evidence we can see (or sense) now of recent activity. Say that you walk outside, and the ground is wet. You can say ‘Oh, I think it’s been raining.’ In this case, we won’t use the present perfect, so this is why it’s useful to know the structure of the PPC. If you have a box of chocolates, and you notice some are missing, but there are still some left, you might say ‘Someone has been eating my chocolates!’ You can’t say that someone ‘has eaten’ your chocolates, because then they would be finished. We are judging what we think has happened recently on evidence we can sense now. Other examples are:

David and Julie have been arguing. They aren’t speaking to each other and Julie looks cross.

Mum, have you been cooking? The house smells amazing!

Leila has been drinking, I’m sure of it. She can barely stand up!

So now you know the structure of the PPC, give it some practice with our exercises, and try to use it in everyday conversation. Once you are used to the structure, you’ll realise it isn’t so difficult!

E. Lawrenson

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