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I have a question regarding present perfect continuous tense and past continuous tense. Suppose I am watching a soccer match between England and France. Both the teams are playing well and need a goal to win. Just after a moment, France score a goal. Which of the tenses should I use in the sentence below to express my feeling.

Here's the sentence:

Oh! what an outstanding goal! That's the goal France have been/were looking for.

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Both are fine. The difference is in how the speaker is choosing to frame the event in time.

The goal that France have been looking for is choosing to treat this as an event extending to the present. The goal that France were looking for is choosing to treat it as an event in the past.

Both are grammatical and idiomatic. In this case there is very little difference in meaning.

The people who tell you that it depends on the objective question of when the event or situation finished, are giving you a simplified explanation to try and make it easier to understand; but their description does not match the way that English is actually used.

Many choices in the compound tenses of English (eg the choice of past vs. present perfect, past vs. past perfect, past vs past continuous, perfect vs. perfect continuous, past vs. perfect continuous, simple present vs. present continuous vs. future) do not correspond to objective differences, but to how the speaker is choosing to construct the temporal relationships between events, and often a different choice would be equally appropriate.

  • Very nice description of how we use tenses. I would just add, "So what would the choice there say about the speaker?" PastC might emphasize their attitude prior, so what they were searching for, emphasizing how they were playing. While PresP might focus on how now they are transformed, eg in terms of confidence now etc. Just a footnote! – EnglishAdam May 8 at 22:13
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You use present perfect continuous tense, i.e. 'has been', when the action is one that started in the past and is still happening presently.

You use past continuous tense, i.e. 'was', when the action is one that started in the past and has since ended.

This being the case, the correct verb to use would be 'was' as France is no longer looking for the goal.

Oh! What an outstanding goal! That's the goal France was looking for!


Note: I changed the verbs to has/was because sports teams in America are referred to as a singular unit unless the team name is a plural noun. I'm not sure if that's the case elsewhere.

  • I don't fully agree - Present Perfect (both simple and continuous) is also usable for actions which have recently finished, and I think it's applicable in case of a team scoring a goal they've been looking for. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 3 '18 at 20:55
  • You may be right. However a bit of research, while not disproving your argument, seems to support mine. (grammarly.com/blog/present-perfect-continuous-tense) – user3536685 Aug 3 '18 at 21:03
  • I agree with the first comment—the Present Perfect Continuous is the right choice here. The Past Continuous implies that France was looking for a goal at the moment thereof but not before. Compare: He was looking for his glasses when the bullet hit him. – Michael Login Aug 3 '18 at 21:06
  • And the first sentence of your answer is just wrong—the action may well be ended at the moment of speaking: Where have you been? I've been waiting for you an eternity! – Michael Login Aug 3 '18 at 21:19

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