The present perfect and present perfect continuous are two aspects of the present tense that are sometimes confused by English learners. They share some similarities in use and structure, but are in fact quite different. In any case, they refer to actions begun in the past but continuing until the present. The present perfect is formed like this:
The present perfect continuous is formed similarly, but with the present participle that characterizes the continuous tenses:
|Subject||have/has been||present participle||object|
|I||have been||assisting||Mrs. Dawson.|
|She||has been||smoking||for five years.|
Knowing when to use these two tenses can be somewhat tricky for English learners. However, there are only a few rules to remember.The present perfect, despite being considered a “present” tense, is most often used with reference to the past. It is typically used for the following three situations:
- An action or event that occurred in the past at an unknown time.
- They have been to France.
- We have seen a tornado.
- An action or event that began in the past and may or may not happen again because the time period is unfinished.
- I have had four cups of coffee this morning.
- She has been to the doctor twice this week.
- An action or event that has occurred in the past, and may possibly continue into the future.
- He has been a dentist for twelve years.
- They have lived in that house since 1997.
The present perfect continuous is used quite similarly to rule #3 from above; however, the emphasis is on the fact that the action or event is on-going:
- She has been taking anti-depressants for three years.
- We have been taking care of the patient since 2005.
Note in the previous four example sentences that “for” and “since” were used to indicate time. This is important for these tenses, and in order to ensure accuracy, the speaker or writer should remember the simple rule:
|For||Used with periods of time– a month, two years, several hours, a century, ages· The patient has been smoking 10 cigarettes a day for 20 years.|
|Since||Used with a point in time– two o’clock, last week, yesterday, 1987, Christmas Daye.g.· The patient has been suffering from depression since his divorce.· The patient had a fall and grazed his left knee. Since then, we have been providing home visits for wound dressing and showering.|
Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous for OET
Having a good grasp of grammar is essential for success in any of the OET sub-tests, but of course it is doubly important for speaking and writing, where the candidate has to produce accurate language. To be able to do this successfully, it is important to pick the correct tense for a situation, and that means knowing which one to use according to slight differences in time. Both tenses could be used to describe changes in a patient’s condition or lifestyle in an OET referral or discharge letter. For example:
- The patient has gained 8kg over the past nine months.
- The patient has been gaining weight recently.
- The patient has shown signs of dementia.
- The patient has been showing signs of dementia.
In those examples, you can see how the meaning is essentially the same, with only slight differences. Sometimes it is possible to use either tense with virtually no difference. This is due to some cross-over in the situations where these tenses are required, namely that the action or event began in the past and continues until now. However, the present perfect continuous puts some emphasis on the continuing nature of the verb, whereas the present perfect sets it in the past, with the possibility of future continuation. Thus, a subtle difference exists.As mentioned above, it is very important to use “since” and “for” accurately when using these tenses. Getting these mixed up would be considered a very careless error, and would be penalized by an OET examiner. As such, it is important to pay attention to these words. Not only does this show grammatical awareness, but also specificity in detail. Obviously, in all medical fields, such matters are of the utmost importance. It also allows you to take particular information from the notes:
- I have been treating the patient since 9th
- I have been treating the patient for three months.
- The patient has taken a course of antibiotics.
- The patient has been taking antibiotics for six days.
Of course, one final note on grammar use is necessary. It should be obvious that certain verbs cannot take the present perfect continuous form, and those are the verbs which cannot take any continuous form. These are called “non-continuous verbs” because they should not be used in an “-ing” form, except for in extremely informal situations.One of the most common verbs is “to have”, which is non-continuous. We can see this in the following example:
- The patient has had problems with her hearing.
- The patient has been having problems with her hearing.
Another common verb is “to want”:
- The patient has wanted to lose weight since the Christmas holidays.
- The patient has been wanting to lose weight since the Christmas holidays.
Knowing this can help us choose between these two similar tenses because sometimes it is simply not possible to say something in a continuous form. (Note: It is quite common in very informal situations for people to use this language, and you may encounter a patient who says, “I have been having problems with my hearing,” even though it is not grammatically correct.)
Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous for OET Speaking
It is worth mentioning here that while grammatical accuracy is mostly a concern for the writing sub-test, it is also of importance for all other sections. When it comes to the OET speaking sub-test, there is one additional thing that candidates must remember, and that is the contractions. Contractions in English are when two words (or occasionally three) become one word. For example:
- It is à it’s
- They are à they’re
You will have noticed in the explanations above that both the present perfect and present perfect continuous tenses begin with subject + have/has. As such, when using spoken English, it would be much more common to contract these to a shorter form:
|Written form||I have been treating Mr. Sanders for two and a half years.He has suffered from severe migraines.|
|Spoken form||I’ve been treating Mr. Sanders for two and a half years.He’s suffered from severe migraines.|
Just remember that these contractions should not be replicated in the writing sub-test, as they are only found in spoken English and informal written English (such as personal e-mails or social media messages).
Finally, you can do the activity below for some additional practice. Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb in brackets.
- Partridge [come] to this clinic for nine years _______________ .
- The patient [gain] 5kg since December.
- Singh [treat] the patient since her first visit.
- The patient [have] diabetes since 2006.
- She [smoke] two packs of cigarettes a day for ten years.
- has been coming
- has gained
- has treated / has been treating
- has had
- has smoked / has been smoking