My grammar book states that we use Perfect Continuous to make an emphasis on the duration of the action, that is why that tense usually goes with words like how long, since and for.

However, there are 2 sentences with a slight difference.

I have been studying English for 5 years (I started doing it in the past and continue to do it)

I have studied English for 5 years (I started doing it in the past but I may have already finished doing it or I want to say that I have kind of experience in learning the language)

That is almost clear to me, but I can't understand why it is correct to use Perfect tense here

Over the centuries, the river has played a very important role in the history of Russia.

Doesn't over the centuries imply the length of the action?

Could you, please, help me with this confusion?

3 Answers 3


"Over the centuries" and "history" indicate a block period of time in the past; hence the past simple tense. The river is important in the past and may or may not continue to be so.

In order to warrant the perfect continuous (i.e. that it definitely continues to be important) you want a time phrase that makes explicit the continuing nature of its importance.

"The Volga has been playing an important in shaping Russian society ever since..."


over the centuries ... has played = in history, that is, from the earliest times when history was recorded up until the present day, it has had a role.

History can be isolated to the past, or it can impinge upon the present.


Over the centuries it played an important role until it was demolished in 1850.

Over the centuries it has played an important role, and we can expect it to continue to do so, since it is situated at the confluence of two rivers.

  • It's clear, thanks:) I understand the difference between Simple Past and Present Perfect. I just can't get it, why isn't Present Perfect Continuous used there. How can you see that it is a fact (has had a role) and not a duration (Over the centuries continues to play the role....) emphasized? Mar 10, 2018 at 10:57
  • I don't understand your comment, sorry. Which sentence of mine are your referring to? continues is simple present. It can be used of the past in which case it is called the "historical present".
    – TimR
    Mar 10, 2018 at 13:32
  • 1
    You CAN say Over the centuries it has been playing an important role in the movement of goods between Europe and Asia. But why you would want to refer to such a fact as an ongoing circumstance is not apparent. We could say This brace has been playing an important role in keeping the old building's wall from toppling over, but it is beginning to develop a stress crack.
    – TimR
    Mar 10, 2018 at 13:36

the problem is generally speaking the majority of grammar books and linguistics are so misleading, they don't answer the real explanation of this "progressive form", this is just a name "progressive" which is misleading, most of the time this has nothing to do with the progressive aspect, but grammarian can't explain it properly, too complicated.

  • This doesn't seem to answer the question.
    – Eddie Kal
    Apr 12, 2021 at 7:04
  • Because there is no "real" answer.
    – man del
    Apr 12, 2021 at 7:10

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