Swan in his book, Practical English Usage, in 459.2, p.447 under the heading temporary or permanent says: "We use progressive forms mostly for shorter, temporary actions and situations. When we talk about longer-lasting or permanent situations we often prefer the simple present perfect"

Below you have to fill out the blanks by putting the verbs in the Present Perfect Simple or Present Perfect Progressive, and choose the latter where possible:

I ____ (go) on package holidays for years and I've never had any problems.

There is no more context to the sentence. The correct answer is using the present perfect progressive only (have been going).

My question is why the simple, and why not both? Does not "for years" and maybe the experience of many holidays, qualify the sentence for present perfect simple?

Another question is about a quote from a traveler who has been exploring the world since he left the university. Currently he is in Africa. He hasn't been feeling well for the last week. He said:

I've [tried/been trying] a lot of different foods on my travels and I've never had any problems before. But everyone has been looking after me very well.

At the end of the story, he said:

I have been exploring the world for over 15 years, but I've got a long way to go

The correct answer is the simple only (have tried) not the progressive. I have no problem with using the simple here but the question is why cannot the progressive be used? The traveler hasn't stopped exploring the world. He still has a long way to go, and probably try more foods.

The last question is about the form of the verb: explore (simple vs progressive). What is the [slight] difference between:

I've explored the world for over 15 years,


I've been exploring the world for over 15 years.

Swan in 459.2 p.447 says: "Progressive and simple tenses are sometimes both possible, with a slight difference of emphasis." He gave two examples but didn't male clear what the difference is. As an example, he gave: "Harry has been working / has worked in the same job for thirty years"

  • @Susan After some more reflection, could the reasoning be due to the focus on the long activity being free from problems. It is like the accidents/incidents "time counter" that you rest in a factory or a base after a last incident. The continuity as you said, comes from the there being no indication of stopping in the second part of the sentence. The progressive tense is suited for "how long" and activity has been taking place. To all, any corrects; any more ideas?
    – learner
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 5:53
  • If it's correct, it could be clearer if it is written as follows "I have been going on holidays for years without problems"
    – learner
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 6:07

2 Answers 2


To your first question:

I have been going on package holidays for years and I have never had any problems.

The Present Perfect Progressive has the meaning of "lately" or "recently." There is no indication from the second phrase that she stopped going on these trips long ago in the past. In fact, it sounds like she still may be taking trips, thus the answer.

The answer to your second question also lies in the second phrase. He is referring to the fact that he was never sick before from the foods he had already tried, not the food he is continuing to try, because obviously the most recent food made him ill.

I have been exploring the world...

The distinction is slight, but perhaps can best be explained as, there is no indication that the subject will stop the activity. The alternative

I have explored the world...

does not hold that implication. It could easily end with

I have explored the world for over 15 years, and it's time for me to settle down.


As for my third question, I have found a great link on this site. I copy one answer from it but I encourage the readers to visit and read the whole discussion; I have not finished it because I am going for work shortly. I like term, completable verb mentioned below!

Sometimes the two tenses are interchangeable, as in the OP's example. But sometimes they are not. Essentially, it depends on whether the action denoted by the verb is regarded by the speaker as completable or not. By this definition, living and learning, for example, are not completable, in which case both tenses are possible:

  • I've been living in London since 2001.
  • I've lived in London since 2001.

Conversely, if the verb is completable then the present perfect is used to indicate that the action has indeed been completed, whereas the continuous form implies only that the action was carried out, but with no indication if it was completed. For example:

  • I've read the book.

means I've finished reading it. Whereas:

  • I've been reading the book.

means only that I was in the process of reading it. It carries no implication that the reading is complete. Indeed, it tends to imply that the reading is not complete. There's a similar difference in meaning between:

  • I have been learning the irregular verbs.
  • I have learned the irregular verbs.

In this case the verb learn is conceived by the speaker as completable. By Shoe

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