October 1

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EP16: Present Perfect Continuous (1)

 

Hello hello, fellow learners of English, how are you doing out there? I hope you’re doing great. Nice to be with you again, and welcome to the Learners of English Podcast, episode number 16.

Today it’s all about the present perfect continuous. Before we begin, let me just remind you that you can find the transcript of this episode on my website, learnersofenglish.com.

As always, I recommend that you listen to this episode twice: the first time without the transcript, and the second time you can listen while reading along.

Also, if you haven’t listened to the 4 episodes about the present perfect simple yet, I highly recommend that you pause this episode and listen to Episodes 12, 13, 14 and 15 first. You don’t have to, but I think you’ll be better prepared for this episode if you do.

That’s enough introduction for today, are you ready? Here we go!

We’re going to be comparing present perfect simple (PPS) and present perfect continuous (PPC).

Let’s talk about form first. You know how to create the PPS:

Present perfect simple: have/has + past participle

I have learned Czech for 9 months.

To create the present perfect continuous you need: have/has + been + ing

I’ve been learning Czech for 9 months.

We’re going to talk about the difference in meaning in a few moments, so hold on.

In terms of the form, I think PPC is easier than PPS. All you have to remember is to choose have or has, and then add been and an -ing form. You don’t have to worry about past participles of irregular verbs, or different -ed endings. (to study, studied)

But in terms of the use, it can be quite difficult for learners of English to see the difference between PPC and PPS and to then use both forms confidently and naturally.

So, let’s look at some pairs of sentences without context and then you can think about any differences in meaning. Usually the two tenses (PPS and PPC) mean different things, but sometimes they mean the same thing.

So, consider these 3 pairs of sentences. Do they mean the same thing or not? Why?

I’ve learned Czech versus I’ve been learning Czech.

I’ve lived in Prague for 2 years versus I’ve been living in Prague for 2 years.

I’ve started a podcast versus I’ve been starting a podcast.

Do you understand the differences in meaning?

The main differences are: PPS focuses on results of actions. We consider the action to be complete. We’re focusing on the result of a complete action. PPC focuses on the process of the action. It emphasises that it’s a repeated action. It’s all about the process, not about the result.

Let’s look at the sentences again, but now with context.

I’ve learned Czech. (It’s all done now. Let’s move on to the next language!)

I’ve been learning Czech. (Here we focus on the repeated process. Imagine someone practising again and again)

Sometimes PPS and PPC can mean the same thing when you’re using a verb that can refer to a long action.

For example:

I’ve lived in Prague for 2 years and I’ve been living in Prague for 2 years.

So, the times when PPS and PPC are the same is when the PPS version describes an action that started in the past and continues now (long verb, like live), especially when you use an expression for a period of time, like I’ve lived in Prague for 2 years and  I’ve been living in Prague for 2 years.

Now, there are grammar purists who argue that there’s also a difference here between process and result in this example, but I will talk about that in the next episode. For now you should just remember that most native speakers don’t care about the difference.

And now to the 3rd pair: I’ve started a podcast versus I’ve been starting a podcast.

 ̶I̶’̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶o̶d̶c̶a̶s̶t̶ doesn’t sound right. Obviously you can’t keep starting a podcast. It’s a short action. So I’ve started a podcast is the correct sentence here.

Here’s one final example for today to show you the difference between result and process.

I’ve lost my keys. (You don’t know where the keys are now)

I’ve been losing my keys. (again and again and again, what’s wrong with me?)

I’ve lost my keys. Have you seen them?

I’ve been losing my keys a lot recently. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

OK that’s enough for today. I want you to remember one main rule about the difference between PPS and PPC:

PPS is all about the result. PPC is all about the process.

Now it’s time for you to start practicing. You can use my examples to write down your own examples.

Remember, we don’t just listen to podcasts here, we take action. Only if you take action you’ll become a successful learner of English, and you can achieve your life goals and fulfil your dreams.

OK, that’s it. Let me know your thoughts on this episode in the comments or via email.

Take care of yourself, and each other, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!


About the author 

Kristian

Kristian is a Dutch guy who teaches English online. He relaxes with audiobooks, music and podcasts. Kristian still has a lot to learn, but he's happy to share what he has learnt along the way.

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