• The present perfect continuous is one of the eight basic verb “tenses” in English. It is a compound tense which is formed with the simple present of ‘have’ (‘have,’ ‘has’) as a first auxiliary and the past participle of ‘be’ ( ‘been’) as a second auxiliary; the main verb is in the -‘ing’ form. In other words:
present perfect continuous = ‘have’/‘has‘ + ‘been’ + -‘ing’ form
• Here are examples of some of the ways in which the present perfect continuous can be used:
a. with “stance” verbs (e.g. ‘live,’ ‘stand,’ ‘lie,’) to refer to a temporary state beginning in the past and possibly continuing into the future.
for example: Harry HAS BEEN SITTING by the window all afternoon.
b. with “durative” verbs to refer to an activity beginning in the past and possibly continuing into the future.
for example: When Harry phoned, Jill said, “I HAVE BEEN CRYING for two hours.”
c. with “punctual” verbs to refer to a recent series of repeated events possibly continuing into the future.
for example: When Harry got home, Sarah said, “The neighbour’s dog HAS BEEN BARKING all day.”.
d. with “durative” or “punctual” verbs to explain the present effects of a past activity
for example: When Dick asked Jane why her eyes were red, she said, “I HAVE BEEN PEELING onions.”
1. from an ESL point of view the two main points to be made about the present perfect continuous are (i) that in colloquial speech it is very common and, therefore, anyone who aspires to speak English in a natural, native-speaker-like way must be able to use it competently; (ii) that despite its importance, the failure to use this tense properly seldom results in a straight-forward grammatical error.
2. in (a) above, the present perfect could be substituted for the present perfect continuous without introducing any linguistic awkwardness and without any definite change in meaning. (Some native speakers would feel, however that, Harry has sat by the window all afternoon would indicate that the period of sitting had just ended whereas the use of the present continuous would indicate that it was probably going to continue.)
3. in (b), the substitution of the present perfect would result in a grammatical sentence but one with a different meaning (that Jill had stopped crying.)
4. in (c), the substitution would produce a grammatical but awkward sentence.
5. in (d), the substitution of ...I have peeled onions would be grammatical but would be very awkward (because strangely emphasizing the completion of the activity?)