If someone asks me : what have you been doing this afternoon and I want to say that I have been reading the newspaper, emphasizing the activity, how I have been occupying myself, not the result, even though I have finished reading the entire paper, can I use the perfect progressive or do I have to use the present perfect: What have you been doing? I have read the paper/ I have been reading the paper?

2 Answers 2


The progressive or continuous indicates ongoingness or repetition.

I've been repairing the shed's roof this afternoon.

does not mean that the shed is now repaired, only that you have bee doing something towards the repair, whereas

I've repaired the shed's roof.

indicates that the shed's roof is now ready to be rained on.

P.S. Let's take a real world situation.

If you are asked

What have you been doing all afternoon?

if would be improper to reply

I have brushed my teeth.

since the question wants either a single activity that occupied you throughout the afternoon, or a list of the activities which have occupied you.

So, you could say, in response to the question "What have you been doing":

I have brushed my teeth and I have paid a few bills and I have given the dog a bath.


I have been playing FIFA.

If you say

I have been brushing my teeth all afternoon.

people will think you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Yes, I understand. How about brushing your teeth? For example: what have you been doing in the bathroom? Is it possible to say I have been brushing my teeth, when you mean that you have brushed all of your teeth?
    – anouk
    Mar 1, 2018 at 16:57
  • See my P.S. which addresses the question in your comment. Mar 1, 2018 at 17:17
  • Sorry, I havent made myself clear enough. This is a big misunderstanding, funny though. Forget all afternoon, Ive been in the bathroom 5 minutes. What I mean is can I say I have been brushing my teeth ( for 2 minutes ) when I have obviously brushed all of my teeth, to emphasize the activity, not the result.
    – anouk
    Mar 1, 2018 at 17:32
  • 1
    @anouk: Question: Have you finished brushing your teeth? ANSWER: Yes, I have brushed my teeth. A progressive/continuous in the reply would not answer the question. You can say I have been brushing my teeth to indicate what you have been doing for some length of time. It has been an ongoing activity. The progressive/continuous is silent with respect to completion. Mar 1, 2018 at 17:41

Question: What have you been doing [up to the point where I am asking you this question].

  • I've been reading the paper. [up until this point in time in the present].

Question: What have you done this afternoon?

  • I've read the paper. OR I read the paper. Either is fine.

The first is general and merely states it was in the past without any more information.

The second is more specific and implies a specific act that is finished.

In practical terms, they are both acceptable.

  • Thank you for your answer but I dont understand what you mean at all. By the first and the second do you mean your examples? Do you mean that "I read the paper" is a specific act and "I have read" is not specific? Both are acceptable" do you mean your examples or mine? I thought the progressive could also be used for an act that has recently finished. Im sorry, but I`m really confused.
    – anouk
    Mar 1, 2018 at 16:22
  • @anouk, I mean the PP continuous versus the PP and the SP. I've been reading versus I have read/I read. Both means: PP and SP. I have read is not specific, it's just signalling that something happened in the past. A specific past action is signalled by SP. I've been reading signals: up to this point in time when I am speaking "to you". |_________| present. The line represents: have been [verb]
    – Lambie
    Mar 1, 2018 at 17:50

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