One, whom I don't know, posted this sentence on one Russian forum, where people study English. The sentence comes from here

  • They've been living with his mother while they look for a house

Is it possible to place the subordinate clause in the Present Simple if the main clause is in the Present Perfect Continuous tense?

As far as I know this is a mistake. It should be either of the two:

  1. They are living with his mother while looking for a house.
  2. They were living with his mother while looking for a house.

The second appearance of the word "they" makes me uncomfortable too.

  • 1
    Idiomatic is "Someone I don't know posted this..." or "Someone, I don't know who, posted this ....". The first would mean that the poster is a stranger to you. The second means you have no idea who the poster was.
    – TimR
    Mar 30, 2017 at 13:00
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    The sentence you've given is idiomatic. Nothing wrong with mixing tenses like that, or with repeating the pronoun. He's been taking the bus while his car is in the shop.
    – TimR
    Mar 30, 2017 at 13:02
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    You're simply mistaken in your understanding of how while they look for a house works there. For example, I'll make us a cup of tea while you get dressed in no way implies that "getting dressed" is something you do habitually or for an extended period of time (okay - most people do normally get dressed, but that's just something everyone knows, not something implied by the phrasing). Mar 30, 2017 at 13:23
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    ...if you wanted to emphasise the duration of the house-seeking (and/or the fact that this is a temporary state of affairs) rather than the fact that they've been doing this while living with his mother, you could perhaps do that better with They live with his mother while they are looking for a house. Mar 30, 2017 at 13:27
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    @FF and I agree on this. I just wanted to add that the present can (but need not) refer to a customary action: She works in the city while he stays home with the kids. One-off event: He is making the main course while she whips up a dessert.
    – TimR
    Mar 30, 2017 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


The moment of speaking:

It should be remembered that the PRESENT in present perfect continuous refers to the moment of speaking of the speaker. (Or writing).


They've been living with his mother [present, where the speaker is located IN TIME or ON THE TIMELINE] while they look for a house.

That sentence is spoken by a speaker. The action started in the past and continues at the moment of my uttering it. Think of a line started in the past, and stopping right at the present, the moment of speaking.

The other two sentences are grammatical but they FUNCTION differently regarding the timeline.

1) They are living [I am in the present and so is the action]with his mother while looking for a house.

The verb /present continuous/ occurs at the present line marker on the time.

2) They were living with his mother while looking for a house.

The past continuous does not continue in the present. It is finished at the line of the present on the time.

  • Impressive, yet, does my first sentence imply the same meaning as the initial sentence? Mar 30, 2017 at 18:56
  • So i can say: We have been speaking about it while we drive home. And it will be correct? Mar 30, 2017 at 18:57
  • @SovereignSun Your first question under my answer: No, the two sentences are different. Your second question under my answer: Yes, it is correct to write/say: We've been speaking about it while we drive home. Trick question for you: What does the use of the present perfect continuous imply in your question? :)
    – Lambie
    Mar 31, 2017 at 12:53
  • I have no idea. I still can't understand any of this. Mar 31, 2017 at 13:06
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    @SovereignSun The answer to my question regarding your question about: We've been speaking about it while we drive home = You are still driving home. You are talking to someone about that, probably on a cell phone, iPad or other device. See? :) At the time you say it, it is still occurring (the driving home). Look at the timeline. In order to understand tenses in English (if you speak a language that doesn't have them), you have to imagine yourself on that timeline. Ask yourself: Where is the action occurring as I stand at the present time on that timeline.
    – Lambie
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:04

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