English Grammar Course Unit 18: Present perfect Tense (I have done/I have been doing) with how long,for,since

Why should you study this unit?

In the earlier chapters we learned about the use of present perfect simple and present perfect continuous.  In this unit we will learn about using the present perfect tense with for, since and how long. For instance when you want to talk about how long it is since the two thousand rupee note has been in use, but you can’t remember the month, you would say ‘It has been in use for seven or eight months. On the other hand if you do remember the exact month as November, you would say that ‘The two thousand rupee note has been in use since November’.

This unit has more such examples to share.

A. Study this example situation:

Charlie and Lisa are married. They got married exactly 20 years ago, so today is their 20th wedding anniversary.

They have been married for 20 years.

We use the present perfect to say how long something has existed or how long something has been happening.

How long have they been married?

They are married. They have been married for 20 years.

 B. We use the present perfect continuous (I have been doing) to say how long something has been happening. Note that the action is still happening now.

  • I’ve been studying English for a long time.
  • Sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting long?
  • It’s been raining since I got up this morning.

Sometimes the action is a repeated action (see also section B of Unit 16):

  • Rita has been driving for ten years.
  • How long have you been smoking?

The continuous (I have been doing) or the simple (I have done) can be used for actions repeated over a long period:

  • I’ve been collecting / I’ve collected stamps since I was a child.

C. We use the simple (I have done) for situations that exist for a long time (especially if we say always). Note that the situation still exists now.

  • My father has always worked hard. (not has always been working)

We use the continuous for situations over a shorter time. Compare:

  • John has been living in Singapore since January.
  • John has always lived in Singapore.

D. Some verbs (for example be, have, know) are not normally used in the continuous (see section B of Unit 3 for a list and Unit 23 for have):

  • How long have Charlie and Lisa been married?
  • Tina has had a cold for the past week. (not has been having)
  • James and I have known each other since high school.

E. Do not use the simple present (I do) or present continuous (I am doing) to say how long something has been happening:

  • I’ve been waiting here for an hour. (not I am waiting)
  • How long have you known James? (not do you know)

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