Author Topic: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous  (Read 971 times)

Offline Natalia

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Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« on: May 19, 2019, 06:44:15 AM »
Hello again. Recently I read an article on how to make effective small talk, in which there are some questions you may ask the person you don't know very well.
And I came across one question which I don't think I fully understand. Here it is:

1. Have you been watching Game of Thrones? What’d you think about the last episode?

Can you tell me please why the present perfect continuous is used here? Normally, if I ask someone whether they’re watching or reading something at present, I use the present continuous, like: Are you reading any books now? Are you watching any series on Netflix these days?

Speaking of the present perfect continuous, I also found the following sentence in one of the grammar books:

2. I've been reading your book - it's great.

And again, how to understand this sentence? I started reading it at a point in the past and I'm still reading it?

I just realised that when this tense is used without any time expressions (like since, for), I have some doubts as for the meaning of a given sentence. I'd be terribly grateful for your explanation.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2019, 09:10:07 AM by Natalia »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2019, 10:39:18 AM »
I suppose that's just to emphasize that you're asking "What have you been doing lately?" about their experience, rather than asking more directly about what they are doing now or future plans. Oddly those sentences to also imply that they will continue (watch the next episode on TV, or finish the book later), but the emphasis is on what they have experienced, which has been a habitual or ongoing activity. And I suppose it's a sort of smalltalk formula to ask "What have you been doing lately?" with similar answers, because as you point out, it isn't entirely logical.
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Offline Natalia

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2019, 11:59:52 AM »
But in the book where I found the sentence "I've been reading your book - it's great", it's clearly written that the activity is still continuing up until now, that is, "I started reading your book in the past and I'm still reading it".

I think there must some kind of connection between the past and present here? If I simply said, "I'm reading a really good book now", to me it would mean "that's what I'm doing at present, and the focus is on the ongoing acitvity", but if I used the present perfect continuous, what would I exactly express? Would I emphasise the continuity and duration of the action?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2019, 12:31:21 AM »
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But in the book where I found the sentence "I've been reading your book - it's great", it's clearly written that the activity is still continuing up until now, that is, "I started reading your book in the past and I'm still reading it".
The progressive (ongoing) and perfective (completed) aspects are in a bit of conflict there, although it can be rephrased coherently as "I have experienced a state of reading your book". It doesn't explicitly say anything about the present moment, but there is an implicature that it is still ongoing as relevant to the conversation and because of the progressive form. As I said, it's probably a bit exceptional and formulaic for this sort of smalltalk. I agree with what you've said, but people do say that sort of thing.

Quote
I think there must some kind of connection between the past and present here? If I simply said, "I'm reading a really good book now", to me it would mean "that's what I'm doing at present, and the focus is on the ongoing acitvity", but if I used the present perfect continuous, what would I exactly express? Would I emphasise the continuity and duration of the action?
Language isn't always logical, so there isn't always an easy explanation. Here, it might just be an exception. Or, if you do want a "story" to explain it, then maybe something like this: "I'm reading your book" would emphasize the present moment as well as similar activity at other times, but "I've been reading your book" emphasizes the past experience in contrast to the fact that you are not literally reading the book right now, and it is ongoing (even though the present, probably), but in bursts, so those times are more "important" than the present moment. Something like that, probably.
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Offline Natalia

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2019, 02:42:25 AM »
OK, that makes sense now. However, I'd be very grateful if you could clarify the following so that I'm sure I fully understand it. Namely, I don't think I understand what you meant by "even though the present".
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and it is ongoing (even though the present, probably), but in bursts, so those times are more "important" than the present moment

And If you don't mind. I’d like to ask you one more question about the PPC tense. If I said sth like that: I’ve been studying a lot recently, it would mean that I started studying in the past and I’m still studying at the moment of speaking, or I finished studying in the recent past. Is that right? That's what I can conclude from the definition.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2019, 03:12:28 AM by Natalia »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2019, 11:21:56 AM »
Quote
OK, that makes sense now. However, I'd be very grateful if you could clarify the following so that I'm sure I fully understand it. Namely, I don't think I understand what you meant by "even though the present".
I meant that it might continue now and into the future.
I was referring to variation in how the progressive might occur: for example, the sentence:
We were eating all day yesterday.
could mean two different things (or a mix):
1. We ate continuously, without stopping at all.
2. We ate repeatedly, so that in general yesterday we spent the day eating, but with some breaks, maybe moving from one restaurant to another, and while waiting to be served food, etc.
The "ongoing" nature of the progressive allows that ambiguity, and I was suggesting maybe the mix of progressive and perfective was meant to highlight that the "continuous" sense of ongoing was not right at the moment, but that the activity would again resume in the "repetitive" sense. But again, there isn't necessarily any strict logic going on here.

Quote
And If you don't mind. I’d like to ask you one more question about the PPC tense. If I said sth like that: I’ve been studying a lot recently, it would mean that I started studying in the past and I’m still studying at the moment of speaking, or I finished studying in the recent past. Is that right? That's what I can conclude from the definition.
That sentence is perfective, therefore only making direct statements about what has occurred up to now. Compare a simple past sentence:
I studied yesterday.
It simply does not specify whether I also study today, or whether I will tomorrow. Context could clarify.
So for "I’ve been studying a lot recently" the default assumption would probably be that the action continues to go on into the present and future, unless there is some indication of change of behavior. But that same form would also be used in a context like "I've been eating a lot of unhealthy food lately, but I'm now on a diet to eat more healthy food". So, it can go either way. It doesn't explicitly say anything about anything other than past activity, and context determines the rest. Because it's an ongoing pattern, it probably continues unless otherwise specified.

There should be an implicature here that because you're choosing to refer to it in the perfective maybe it has stopped now (due to the principle of conversational relevance and probably the maxim of quantity), but as I mentioned above, that expectation doesn't seem to work out, because this usage has become conventionalized, probably because we often use narration to tell about what we've been doing recently in small talk and similar situations. It's a little awkward to try to rephrase as "I'm studying a lot these days" (although sometimes you'll hear something like that). There is probably also a conflict with the progressive as the default in English for true in-the-moment present tense ("I'm studying"), as opposed to the simple present which is really habitual ("I study"). Using the form "I've been studying" clarifies that I'm not asserting that I am currently studying-- of course not, because instead I'm having a conversation with you.
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Offline Natalia

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Re: Present Continuous vs Present Perfect Continuous
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2019, 01:27:49 PM »
Thank you very much for your detailed explanation. You've been a great help.