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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 17th, 2013, 02:20 pm
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Question Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Hello Everyone!

I still have some doubts about the difference between Present perfect simple and continuous..could you tell me if my interpretation of these two sentences is correct?

A) How long have you stayed in New York? (In this example, I understand that the person being asked has already come back from their holiday and the speaker is just asking about that experience)

B) How long have you been staying in New York? (In this example, I understand that the person being asked is still on vacation or living there and hasn't gone back)

I have the same confusion with the verb 'live'..: She has lived in China for 5 years/She has been living in China for 5 years..(I understand that she continues to live there, right?)

I would appreciate your help..Greetings from Argentina
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  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 17th, 2013, 03:18 pm
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Present perfect verb forms have three basic uses :

a) To express an event which started in the past and continues until the present moment. With this use there is no difference in meaning between the simple and continuous forms if the event can be seen as either stative or dynamic :
I've lived here for 3 years = I've been living here for 3 years.
just as you could say either I live here now or I'm living here now.
If the event must be seen dynamically, only the continuous can be used, eg :
I've been trying to do this crossword for the last three hours and not * I've tried...etc (just as you would say (I'm trying to do this crossword but it's really difficult, and not I try to etc.


b) a past event (or events) in a time frame which is both past and present. In this case the simple form suggests that the event is complete and finished :
I've read War and Peace this week = ...and have finished it
while the continuous suggests that it is unfinished and ongoing :
I've been reading war and Peace this week = and have reached p. 97


c) A past event with a present result.
In this case the simple form suggests that the event happened once : I've cut my finger!
while the continuous suggests that the action was repeated several times : Someone has been cutting pictures out of this book!


Your example with stay doesn't work though. Firstly, for the context you mention there is no connection with present time. The event is not continuing into the present (explanation a above), the time period is clearly finished, and doesn't continue to the present (as in explanation b)(it's last week not this week, or yesterday not today), and there's no suggestion of a present result. So the sentence would be : How long did you stay in New York.

However, if the person was still at the Hilton Hotel, then the perfect becomes possible (it's now a past to present event). But because the lexical meaning of stay is temporary residence, it must be seen as a dynamic, unfolding event - not as a state. So only the continuous would be used :
- I'm staying at the Hilton Hotel.
- Very posh! How long have you been staying there?
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  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Sep 17th, 2013, 10:12 pm
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Very good answer, Susan.

Ana has given an example sentence She has lived in China for 5 years.

1. Can it mean she is not living there now?

2. If yes, according to the sentence, can we say She has been betrothed to him for three years when the betrothal is broken?
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Unread Sep 18th, 2013, 03:48 am
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Thank you very much Susan! Excellent as always! Everything is more clear now...

So, Let me see if I understood correctly:

How long + past simple = the action is finished
How long + present perfect continuous = the action is still happening, it continues until the present

But I still have some doubts..

What about recent events? For example:

A) The ground is wet. It has been raining. (I understand here that it isn't raining anymore, it has just stopped..and it also indicates result)

B) It has been raining for two hours / since I got up (I understand here that it is still raining, it hasn't stopped yet)

or with the verb 'Wait':

*He has waited / has been waiting for an hour.

Has waited = finished action, completed
Has been waiting = unfinished action, he is still waiting

Another example with 'wait': She has waited / has been waiting for this moment her whole life (both would be correct?)

I clearly still have problems with simple and continuous forms

I appreciate your great help!
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Unread Sep 18th, 2013, 07:53 am
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Concepts like "recent events" are irrelevant -

It has been raining for two hours / since I got up - see explanation (a) it's an event which started in the past and continues to the present moment. It's a dynamic event (like the try example) so the continuous is used.
She has waited / has been waiting for this moment her whole life - again, see explanation (a). But this time you could see it as a state or as dynamic (like the live example) so both forms are possible
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Unread Sep 20th, 2013, 07:55 am
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Great explanation! Now It's clearer... thank you very much Susan!
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Unread Sep 22nd, 2013, 10:32 am
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Nightedge - I'm sorry, I missed your question before.

1. No. It's not possible. The present perfect always involves a past to present event and/or a past to present time frame. If the event and the time frame are both known to be finished then the simple past will always be chosen.

2. This is an interesteing example because the time frame is not exact but approximate - it's unlikely that she was engaged to John for exactly five years. So the speaker may well see the 5 year period as coming right up to the present moment - this might happen for example if s/he has only just heard the news.

A : Have you heard? Livia has broken off her engagement to John. (Past event with present result - she's no longer engaged to him.)
B : What??? That's amazing - they've been engaged for ages, for at least the last five years. (Due to the "fuzzy" time frame and the novelty of the news, the speaker hasn't fully registered that the event is now past).

Compare this with :

A : Have you heard ? Livia has broken off her engagement to John.
B : Yes, Helen told me. I was really surprised. They were engaged for a long time - it must have been about five years.

By now, B has clasified the engagement as a "past event" and therefore naturally chooses the simple past.
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  #8 (permalink)  
Unread Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

And what if only one picture was cut out of the book? Will you say "Someone has cut a picture out of this book?" or "Someone has been cutting a picture out of this book?"
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Unread Oct 24th, 2013, 12:49 pm
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Someone has cut...

If it was just one picture Someone has been cutting... would indicate a single action that continued for an inordinate amount of time and was continuing - unlikely in this context but possible in eg This video has been loading for the last half hour! It's therefore an example of use (b) above, the same as : I've been reading War and Peace this week.
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  #10 (permalink)  
Unread Oct 25th, 2013, 02:33 am
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Default Re: Present Perfect simple vs continuous

Thank you.
I thought the difference between simple and continuous also had (or 'was'… which is the most common?) to do with a result in the present which is the purpose of the action (simple) opposed to a 'result' in the present which is only a side effect, so 'Someone has been cutting out a picture' because the 'result' I can see (my paper ruined) is the side effect of the action certainly not its purpose. Whereas 'Someone has cut a picture' would imply somehow that I can see that picture next to the paper, that I know what the purpose of the action was: getting that one picture. It does not work very well here, but it does in (I see someone with grease on their hands): "What have you been doing?" "I have been repairing my motorbike." Getting grease on your hands is a 'result', an effect of trying to repair a motorbike, but it is not the purpose, not what repairing is for. As opposed to: "Shall I take you downtown? I have repaired my motorbike."
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