present perfect
perfect progressive tenses: contracted forms


Chris from Germany writes:

I'd appreciate it if you could help me with the correct use of tenses. Thank you very much in anticipation.


Roger Woodham replies:

Q: If I want to express that I have been reading a book for a long time ie I started reading it a year ago and I'm still reading it:

  • It's been a long time since I have read this book.

Is this correct?

A: No. The example you have given would mean that you read the book a long time ago. To get across your intended meaning you would need to say something like:

  • I've been reading this book for a long time.
  • I've been reading Tolstoy's War and Peace for over a year now.
  • I've been reading this book for ages and I still haven't finished it.

Q: I want to express that I read and finished reading this book a year ago:

  • It's been a long time since I read this book.

Is this correct?

A: Yes, this sentence is absolutely correct, although it doesn't tell us when you read the book. It might have been ten, twenty or thirty years ago. To get across the meaning that you intend, you could say one of the following:

  • I read Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' a year ago.
  • It was last February when I managed to get through 'Crime and Punishment'.
  • I read 'Crime and Punishment' last February. I started it at the beginning of February and finished it by the end of February.

Q: I am eating pasta again after a long time:

  • It's been a long time since I had pasta.

Or is this better?

  • It's been a long time since I have had pasta.

A: Both of these examples are perfectly correct. If you use the simple past tense, since I had pasta, you are thinking at that moment of the last time you ate it. If you use the present perfect tense, since I have had pasta, you are thinking of the gap in time since you last ate it.

Remember we use the simple past (I read, pronounced 'I red') to talk about things that happened in the past. We use the present perfect (I've read) to talk about finished events that are connected with the present. The present perfect progressive (I've been reading) is particularly useful when we wish to emphasise the up-to-the-present-time aspect:

  • I passed my university entrance exams about six months ago - in July 2001.
  • I've passed my exams and I'm going to start the foundation course in April.
  • I haven't been working hard enough. I shall never pass those exams next month.

present perfect / present perfect progressive
contracted forms

When we are using the present perfect and present perfect progressive tenses in speech, we nearly always prefer the contracted forms of the auxiliary verb have:

I've, you've, he's, she's, it's, that's, there's, we've, they've, haven't, hasn't, what's…?, where've…?, why've…? etc..

These are sometimes difficult to hear and are not always easy for learners to use. But they are a very basic ingredient of spoken English. Practice these examples and use the audio link to help you:

What've* you been doing? ~ I've been helping my dad. I've been helping him with the accounts. We haven't finished yet.


Where've* you been? We haven't seen you for ages
~ We've been in France. We've been working on an EU project.


Have you heard? There's been an accident. Toby's been injured and he's lost a lot of blood. They've taken him to St Mary's Hospital.


What's happened? ~ Nothing's happened. ~ Something's happened. Why've* you been crying? ~ I haven't been crying. I've been laughing! I've never laughed so much before!


I know we've only just met but already you've done so much for me. You've been so helpful. My children've* never been as happy as they are now.


It's been wonderful living here. Since I've lived here, I've made so many friends. They've really made a difference to my life.


The forms which are asterisked above would not normally be written in this way, even to represent spoken English, but they are spoken in this way.

Note that when the auxiliary verb have is stressed, for example at the beginning of a question or at the end of a clause, a contraction is not possible:

Have you finished in the gym?
~ Yes, I have.


Have you tidied away all the equipment?
~ No, sorry, I haven't.



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