How long + past simple, present perfect or present perfect continuous. How the meaning will be changed after using each of these tenses ? I don't know if I got it right, so I want to share the way I understand it and to be corrected if got something wrong.
For example how the meaning will be different with this sentence: how long (work) for them.

Past simple:

How long did David work for them

would mean that David worked for them previously but doesn't work for them anymore.

Present perfect:

How long has David worked for them

would mean that David works for them generally and I'm asking how long does he do it?

Present perfect continuous:

How long has David been working for them

would mean that David works for them at the time of speaking?

I have doubts about the Present perfect and the Present perfect continuous. I think didn't understand them correctly.

  • 4
    Your third sentence should have been moved from directly in front of David to directly behind it: How long has David been . . . Jul 26, 2018 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


Your simple past understanding is fine. In your example the present perfect and the present perfect continuous are practically interchangeable. In both cases, David is still working for them. With 'how long' questions it is often the case that the two are interchangeable.

Sometimes there is a slight difference between the meaning of the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous. They both have an effect that is valid in the present, but sometimes in the present perfect the action is complete while in the present perfect continuous it doesn't have to be.

A typical grammar book example is 'I have painted the ceiling' versus 'I have been painting the ceiling'. In the first example, the effect is that I am happy now, in the present; the job is done. In the second, the emphasis is on the process, the action. We do not know if the job is finished, just that the speaker was recently involved in painting the ceiling.

PS I should add that this is British English.

  • Wow, thank you for so detailed explanation. You really helped me. May I ask one more question? How different would it be in American English? I thought English grammar is the same for both American and British English.
    – blablaalb
    Jul 27, 2018 at 11:01
  • 1
    Sorry, I really don't know American English. I just know they sometimes use simple past instead of present perfect, but I don't know the exact rules. But here's a link I found that might be helpful. onestopenglish.com/grammar/grammar-reference/…
    – S Conroy
    Jul 27, 2018 at 13:28

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