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The Present Perfect-Progressive of English Verbs

All conjugated verbs in the English language express grammatical tense, aspect, voice, and mood. Tense is defined as the grammaticalized expression of time. Aspect is defined as the grammaticalized expression of temporal structure. Voice is defined as the expression of relationships between predicate and nominal functions. Mood is defined as the expression of modality. The present perfect-progressive typically refers to verbs in the present tense, perfect-progressive aspect, indicative mood, and active voice. The present perfect-progressive is related to both the present perfect and the present progressive aspects of English verbs.

The present perfect-progressive can be defined as a verb form that expresses and emphasizes the consequences resulting from a previous but incomplete action or state that began in the past and continues into the present but may or may not continue into the future. For example, the sentence The students have been reading this book contains the verb phrase have been reading, which is an example of the present perfect-progressive. The use of the present perfect-progressive in this example indicates both that the reading of this book began in the past and continues into the present and may but may not continue into the future.

Formation of the Present Perfect-Progressive

The present perfect-progressive is a periphrastic verb form, periphrasis meaning that a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Verbs in the present perfect-progressive are therefore formed by the present tense form of the verb have plus the past participle of the verb be followed by a present participle. The verb phrase patterns for the present perfect-progressive are as follows:

  • first person singular – have + been + present participle – I have been writing my thesis.
  • second person singular – have + been + present participle – Have you been smoking again?
  • third person singular – has + been + present participle – He has been popping balloons.
  • first person plural – have + been + present participle – We have been hunting possums.
  • second person plural – have + been + present participle – You have been taking orders.
  • third person plural – have + been + present participle – They have been repairing books.

Notice that the verb phrase pattern for the present perfect-progressive is identical in all persons and numbers except for the third person singular.

Use of the Present Perfect-Progressive

Because the present perfect-progressive the consequences resulting from a previous but ongoing action or state, the verb form most often occurs in sentences that express actions that occurred recently and actions that continue up to the present. For example:

  • She has been baking all morning.
  • What have you been doing all day?
  • We have been waiting here for hours!
  • I have been experiencing pain in my side.
  • The child has been breaking his toys.

The following visual illustrates the uses of the perfect-progressive aspects of English verbs:

Perfect-Progressive Progressive of English Verbs

The present perfect-progressive expresses incomplete actions or states with present implications.

 

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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