I have finished washing my hair and it is still wet. Why is my hair wet?

Because I have washed it. (focus is on the final result)

Because I have been washing it. (focus is on the action)

To me they are both possible because the recently finished action leads to the result = wet hair.

So what do you think? Which one is preferable?

  • You have asked this question before....and I suspect you know the answer. It all depends on what you want to say. Also, where is your research?
    – Lambie
    Jan 18, 2019 at 21:00
  • 4
    if I knew the answer, I wouldn't ask the question.
    – anouk
    Jan 18, 2019 at 21:03
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/163119/… have read/have been reading. Same thing.
    – Lambie
    Jan 19, 2019 at 4:10
  • Are you finished washing your hair, or not? There is no such thing as the better choice without context, when both are grammatical.
    – TimR
    Jan 19, 2019 at 10:52
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo i have just finished washing it.
    – anouk
    Jan 19, 2019 at 13:26

3 Answers 3


Both are possible, with very little difference in meaning.

It is also possible to use simple past

Because I washed it (five minutes ago); I just washed it.

or past continuous

Because I was washing it.

All possible, all correct. Not much difference in meaning.

  • +1. Because I just washed it
    – TimR
    Jan 19, 2019 at 10:51

I believe you understand the difference between the two verb forms quite well.

I think for washing one's hair, a focus on the action of washing one's hair would be rather unusual. So the most natural conversation would be:

Why is your hair wet?
Because I've washed it.

But for other scenarios, the focus on the action would be completely natural. So the following conversation would usually use the past continuous tense:

Why are your shoes all muddy?
Because I've been walking in the woods.

Maybe the reason for the difference is that most people wash their hair in order to get clean hair, while many people walk in the woods because they enjoy the walk.

Both verb forms are grammatical for both situations, and probably wouldn't strike a native English speaker hearing them as unusual.

  • "Both verb forms are grammatical for both situations" , but at the same time you say: "I think for washing one's hair, a focus on the action of washing one's hair would be rather unusual". That is confusing to me. Could you please explain?
    – anouk
    Jan 20, 2019 at 11:49
  • @Anouk: there's a difference between grammatical and idiomatic. If you washed your hair because you enjoyed washing it, rather than to get it clean, then you might easily say Because I've been washing it. But I don't believe that's true for most people. And offhand, I can't think of any other reason you'd put the focus on the action of washing your hair. (If I thought about it, I suspect I could come up with scenarios where you'd do this, though.) Jan 20, 2019 at 18:40
  • maybe you haven't got much hair to wash? (just joking)
    – anouk
    Jan 20, 2019 at 20:06

I don't believe the set-up here. Who wants to know? If it is the person asking the question, they would know whether or not they have been washing their hair recently. Otherwise, the question reads like some kind of riddle, or possibly a rhetorical question.

If the real intended question here is: "Why is your hair wet?" then "Because I have washed it" without further context might possibly be OK as an answer, but only because the listener will mentally interpolate the word "just". They would need to make such an interpolation because the statement "I have washed my hair" is true of pretty much every human being on the planet who has hair to wash. The statement therefore contains literally no information without further context.

It would be easy to think of circumstances in which that truthful answer might not in fact account for the hair being wet now: "I was just skinny-dipping in the pool with your wife", for example.

Consider, for example, both of the following statements that are in fact true of me:

  1. "I have shaved my chin"
  2. "I have a full beard".

There is a difference in meaning between the two formulations in the OP's question. That difference might not matter in some circumstances but would in others.

  • I want to know about the use of the present perfect continuous for a finished action to account for a present situation.
    – anouk
    Jan 19, 2019 at 11:07
  • "There is a difference in meaning between the two formulations in the OP's question. That difference might not matter in some circumstances but would in others." Could you give an example, because it is that difference in meaning I just don't understand.
    – anouk
    Jan 19, 2019 at 13:30
  • 1
    The difference in meaning is exemplified in my Answer: 'I have washed it' could mean that the washing took place at some indefinite time in the past;, whereas 'I have been washing it' refers to an activity that has very recently been completed. In some contexts it might be obvious that the same meaning is intended, but that is not true of all contexts.
    – JeremyC
    Jan 19, 2019 at 22:02
  • I find your answer really confusing: If I ask someone why their hair is wet now and they answer " because I have washed it" to me it means the washing took place recently, otherwise the hair wouldn't be wet, would it? The wet hair is a result of the recent washing. Could you explain?
    – anouk
    Mar 23, 2019 at 11:28

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