Study this example situation:
Dan and Kate are married. They got married exactly 20 years ago, so today is their 20th wedding anniversary.
They have been married for 20 years.
We say: They are married. (present)
We use the present perfect to talk about something that began in the past and still continues now. Compare the present and present perfect:
- Paul is in hospital
but He’s been in hospital since Monday. (= He has been …) (not Paul is in hospital since Monday)
- We know each other very well.
but We’ve known each other for a long time. (not We know)
- Do they have a car?
but How long have they had their car?
- She’s waiting for somebody.
but She hasn’t been waiting very long.
I’ve known / I’ve had / I’ve lived etc. is the present perfect simple. I’ve been learning / I’ve been waiting etc. is the present perfect continuous.
When we ask or say ‘how long’, the continuous is more usual (see Unit 10):
- I’ve been learning English since January.
- It’s been raining all morning.
- Richard has been doing the same job for 20 years.
- ‘How long have you been driving?’ ‘Since I was 17.’
Some verbs (for example, know and like) are not normally used in the continuous:
- How long have you known Jane? (not have you been knowing)
- I’ve had these shoes for ages. (not I’ve been having)
See also Units 4A and 10C. For have, see Unit 17.
You can use either the continuous or simple with live and work:
- Julia has been living in this house for a long time. or Julia has lived …
- How long have you been working here? or How long have you worked here?
But we use the simple (have lived etc.) with always:
- I’ve always lived in the country. (not always been living)
We say ‘I haven’t (done something) since/for …’ (present perfect simple):
- I haven’t seen Tom since Monday. (= Monday was the last time I saw him)
- Sarah hasn’t phoned for ages. (= the last time she phoned was ages ago)
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