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What are the differences between questions 1 and 2? If you were asked to choose only one over the other to use in an application form which one would you use? In case you say it depends on the situation then could you give me an example?

1- How many years have you studied English?

(A question taken from an application form to the English Language Institute at University of Florida) http://www.vivecampus.com/uflorida/documentos/ApplicationForm.pdf

2- How many years have you been studying English?

(A question taken from an instructions sheet for the IELTS applications form on the British Council's website) http://www.britishcouncil.org/completingieltsapplicationform-2.pdf

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“How many years have you been studying English” assumes that you are studying English now, and have been studying English continuously for [???] years.

“How many years have you studied English” assumes that at some time you studied English for [???] years. It leaves open the possibility that you studied English some time ago and are not studying English now.

The difference probably reflects the different sorts of student these two entities deal with. I imagine that most people taking the IELTS are current students or workers seeking validation of their proficiency, while the Institute offers training which in some cases is tailored to special groups—Brazilian immigration lawyers, for instance—who may need just 'brush-up' instruction in a particular area.

For you, these probably amount to the same thing, since you are studying English right now—this question qualifies as study!

  • Thank you @StoneyB for the clarification. I still have a question I may come back to ask it here and you decide if it is better to post it in a new post – learner Dec 13 '13 at 0:45
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Let's not take the present out of the present perfect!

The question "How long...?" assumes that the applicant is still studying English, no matter whether the application asks the question using the present perfect (Sentence 1) or the present perfect progressive (Sentence 2).

The present perfect often refers to a action or condition that started in the past and continues to the present. As such, it does not leave open the possibility that the situation is no longer true at the present time. This is especially true with the interrogative "How long...?"

(1) How long have you been here?

I have been here five minutes.

(2) How long have you and Sam been friends?

--I have been friends with Sam for six years.

(3) How long have you lived in New York?

--I have lived in New York too long.

This construction does not leave open the possibility that the situation is no longer the case in the present. The same is true for

(4) How long have you studied English?

--I have studied English for six years.


Consider some alternative but illogical (and thus ungrammatical) possibilities:

(5a) How long have you studied English?

*--I have studied English for six years, but I am not studying it now/anymore.

This is as illogical and ungrammatical as

(5b) How long have you been here?

--I have been here five minutes, but I am not here now.

(5c) How long have you lived in New York?

*--I have lived in New York nine years, but I no longer live in New York.

(5d) How long have you eaten peanut butter?

*--I have eaten peanut butter for six years, but I have stopped eating it.

For (5abcd), the person answering the question can use the simple past or the past perfect if the situation is no longer true.


There are other contexts in which the present perfect can only refer to situations that began in the past and are still true at the time of the statement (I have lived in Chicago since 2010).

In addition, the present perfect progressive can refer to actions that are no longer true at the time of the utterance (e.g., Where have you been? --I have been running) or (it has just been raining).

Therefore, I prefer Question 1. To me, the past perfect has more a sense of immediacy than does the past perfect progressive. I suppose its lack of the verb "been" + the -ing form has something to do with this. Plus it is shorter and easier to say.

  • Why does you think that the The question "How long...?" assumes that the applicant is still studying English, ... Maybe the applicant has finished studying. why do you think otherwise plz ? – Gamal Thomas Mar 15 '17 at 2:28

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