If you speak English, you make use of the English present tense every day. And chances are, if you're not an English scholar or planning on teaching English, you don't know how to explain how each of the four tenses making up the present tense are formed and used (or even that there are four variations!). For the average person; there is one present tense and that's all there is to know. If you want to know more (or plan on teaching English) then knowledge of each of the four minor tenses that make up the present tense is required. The four present tenses are: present simple, present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous.

This simple guide will tell you everything you need to know about the last of the present tenses, the present perfect continuous tense.

When is the present perfect continuous tense used?

The present perfect continuous tense is used for:

- Referring to ongoing activities (which may now be over) when describing how long they have been going on for and that have been going on up until this moment e.g.

I have been attending their meetings for the past year; I have been training since June; She has been running around all day

How is the present perfect continuous tense formed?

Tenses have three variations: Affirmative, Negative and Question

Note: The auxiliary verb "have" has two present forms: has (used with he, she, it) and have (used with everything else).The present participle is the "ing" form of a verb.

-Affirmative: Subject + Auxiliary verb "have" + been + Present participle

They have been walking around town today

-Negative: Subject + Auxiliary verb "have" + not + been + Present Participle

They have not been walking around town today

- Question: Auxiliary verb "have" + Subject + been+ Present Participle

Have they been walking around town today?

Contracted forms

Contracted forms are more natural in spoken English. When combining the subject with the auxiliary verb "have", the resulting terms can be shortened as follows:

I have = I've

You have = You've

We have = We've

They have = They've

He has = He's

She has = She's

It has = It's

Note: Each contracted form is formed by adding the subject + an apostrophe + the auxiliary verb "have" minus its first two letters.

The above contractions are usually only used with the affirmative form. When used with the negative form of this tense, the sentence will still be correct but too formal for spoken English e.g.

I've not been much a lot today.

While this is correct, one would usually say: I haven't been eating much today. Note that the auxiliary verb "have" + not forms the contracted term. These terms are shortened as follows:

Have not = Haven't

Has not = Hasn't

Note: These contracted forms are formed by combining the auxiliary verb "have" + not and replacing the "o" with an apostrophe.

When learning English, it is much more important to know how to form each tense correctly rather than to know each contracted form and when to use them. Sentences will still be correct without using contracted forms – they can be learnt later as one gains experience and wishes to speak English more naturally.

Keep it simple

It may seem that there is no simple way of learning the English tense system, but by taking one minor tense at a time and practicing its formation and different uses, one will find that the tense system can be learnt fairly quickly. Knowledge of parts of speech and the rules to form each tense is important in the beginning, and once these are fully remembered, practice will see the entire system becoming much easier to understand and use naturally and correctly.