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How my daughter found a clever explanation for the Present Perfect Continuous.

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

I wonder how many people reading this have heard of the children story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

For those who don't know, the basic storyline is that a family of bears make porridge for breakfast and as it is too hot to eat, decide to go for a walk while it cools down. Whilst they are walking, a young girl called Goldilocks decides to enter the bears house and, finding the bears out, eats some of their porridge. When the bears come home, they discover what Goldilocks has done and are not very pleased....

Anyway, my daughter loves the story, and whilst reading it last night we came to this page that shows how the bears responded;

Now, look at the sentence "someone has been eating my porridge". It's written using the Present Perfect Continuous. When I read this sentence to my daughter she pointed out that actually the porridge is still in the bowl, it has not been eaten completely and so she couldn't understand why the bears were annoyed.

She's right. If the porridge had been eaten completely and the bowl was empty the bear would have said "someone has eaten my porridge" because the action would have been completed. However, it's not the action being finished that had annoyed the bear, instead the bear is annoyed because the action of eating happened at all...

So, how does this work grammatically?

We use the present perfect continuous for an action that happened in the past with a connection to the present, but where the connection to the present is because the action was happening, not because it is finished - or in this case, the bear isn't annoyed because the bowl is empty, but because Goldilocks was at some point in the past in the process of eating the porridge.

If the bear was annoyed because the bowl was empty, we would say that the impact on the present comes from the action being finished and so we would use the present perfect - "someone has eaten the porridge".

Other examples of the Present Perfect being useful could be;

  • My kitchen is messy because I've been cooking today. (whether the food is finished or not doesn't matter).

  • I've been watching a great series recently, so now we have something to talk about. (it doesn't matter whether the series is finished or not).

  • I've been working out a lot recently, so am now in good shape. (this person isn't finished with the process of working out, so it's not expressed as a completed action).

The forms of the two tenses:

Present Perfect Continuous form

subject + have/has + been + present participle.

Present Perfect form

subject + have/has + past participle.

Over to you:

If you would like to discuss any specific goals that you have with learning English then you can book a free trial lesson with myself, just send me an email at to introduce yourself. If you're lucky, my daughter might be able to teach you a few other grammatical tricks as well!

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