Residents have been planting the ornamental trees outside their houses and in lawns to add beauty and give their place a grand look.

Now usually I see sentences like "...have been doing this/that for 5 years..." or "....have been doing this/that since 1950..." etc. But this sentence does not have any such time span or point of time mentioned. Does that make it incorrect? It is clearly understandable this sentence in present perfect continuous tense means that the tree planting has been going on for some time.

I was told the correct form would be Residents have planted the ornamental trees outside their houses and in lawns to add beauty and give their place a grand look. This is correct as a sentence in present perfect tense.

But I'm not sure that the first form of the sentence is indeed incorrect. Or is it wrong for some other reason?

  • The first form is neither "right" nor "wrong", "correct" nor "incorrect". If you were taught that English is spoken or written according to "rules", that is an unfortunate lesson, from an unqualified instructor, which you should summarily reject! Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 22:06
  • @P.E.Dant : neither correct nor incorrect ? How's that possible?
    – user118494
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 5:45
  • There is no "correct" way to express a thought in any language. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 6:33
  • @P.E.Dant : I was told that the first structure failed to convey any sensible meaning. anyways, he made a mistake then.
    – user118494
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 7:37
  • 1
    In that case, you were given incompetent instruction by someone who does not really speak or understand English. There is no "mistake" in the first sentence in your question. It is perfectly sensible, understandable, and idiomatic English. Please read and understand StoneyB's answer below. What you have been taught is just plain wrong. There is no requirement in English to include a reference to time in any construction. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


There's nothing wrong with this sentence: no verb construction requires a temporal reference to be grammatically acceptable.

(A temporal reference may be desirable, to resolve ambiguity, but that has nothing to do with syntactic requirements.)

In cases where the relevant timespan is unspecified readers will either deduce it from the surrounding context or understand it to be something vague like “recently” or “for some time”.

  • I agree, indeed I would go further: "have been" strongly implies that the activity was happening recently, though may have started some time ago. I don't think we would say "have been" if the activity ceased a few years ago.
    – djna
    Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 16:32

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