We use both of these tenses for finished and unfinished actions.
The present perfect simple can be used (often with ‘since’ and ‘for’) to talk about unfinished actions that started in the past and are still true in the present. It’s often used with stative verbs:
- I’ve known John for three years.
The present perfect continuous can also be used (often with ‘since’ and ‘for’) to talk about unfinished actions that started in the past and are still true in the present. (Of course, we don’t use the present perfect continuous with stative verbs):
- He’s been living in Australia for three years.
Sometimes there’s really no difference in meaning between the two tenses. This is especially the case with verbs such as ‘live’, ‘work’ and ‘study’:
- They’ve lived in Sydney since 1975.
- They’ve been living in Sydney since 1975.
- I’ve studied Spanish for 20 years.
- I’ve been studying Spanish for 20 years.
There is also a difference in meaning:
1: The present perfect continuous can be used to emphasise the length of time that has passed. The present perfect simple is generally neutral:
- They’ve been waiting for hours! (This emphasises the length of time).
- They’ve waited for hours. (This doesn’t emphasise the length of time).
2: On the other hand, the present perfect simple is often used when we’re talking about how much or how many. This isn’t possible with the present perfect continuous:
- She’s drunk three cups of coffee this morning.
- She’s drunk at least a liter of coffee today.
- (NOT: she’s been drinking three cups of coffee this morning).
3: The present perfect continuous often focuses on the action itself, while the present perfect simple focuses on the fact that the action is completed:
- I’ve been reading the book you mentioned. (I’m enjoying it, but I’m not finished).
- I’ve read the book you mentioned. (I’ve finished it, so we can talk about it).
We use ‘yet’ and ‘already’ with the present perfect simple:
- Has he read the book yet?
- He’s finished his work already.
This difference is often used to talk about different kinds of results in the present. The present perfect simple is used when the action is finished, and the result comes from the action being finished:
- We’ve eaten dinner, so let’s go out.
- He’s done all his homework, so he can relax this evening.
- I’ve made a cup cake. Would you like one?
The present perfect continuous is used when the result comes from the action itself. It doesn’t matter if the whole action is finished or not. The result is often something we can see, hear, smell, or feel:
- I’ve been eating dinner, so there are plates all over the table.
- She’s been doing her homework, so she’s tired.
- I’ve been making a cake, that’s why the kitchen is such a mess.
4: Finally, the present perfect continuous can be used to emphasise that something is temporary:
- She’s been running a lot recently. (She doesn’t usually do this).
- Usually I study at home, but I’ve been studying in the library for the last week.
- Have they arrived already?
- Lucy has run 2000 meters today.
- I’ve been cleaning all morning – I’m fed up!
- How long have you known Simon?
- I’ve been drinking more water lately, and I feel better.
- Sorry about the mess! I’ve been baking.
- How many times have you taken this exam?
- He has eaten six bars of chocolate today!
- Julie has cooked dinner. Let’s go and eat!
- The students have finished their exams. They’re very happy.
- The baby’s face isreally dirty! What has he been eating?
- Iona is exhausted these days. She has been working too hard recently.
- Luke has never been abroad.
- I’ve been waiting for three hoursalready !
- Have you finished your homework yet?
- How long have you been a lawyer?
- I’ve been reading your book all day. It’s very interesting, but I’m only onchapter 2.
- She has drunk ten glasses of water!
- I’ve had my dog for sixteen years.
- Help, I’ve lost my wallet! How can I get home?