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I want to tell someone about one of the most interesting projects I was involved in during the past couple of years:

One of the most interesting projects I worked on in the past couple of years [is about ...]

One of the most interesting projects I've worked on in the past couple of years [is about ...]

One of the most interesting projects I've been working on in the past couple of years [is about ...]

Could you please explain which tense (the simple past, the present perfect, the present perfect continuous) is correct for this purpose and why?

What if I'm still working on this project? Does it make a difference?

  • "during the past couple of years" fits better. – virolino Feb 19 at 10:08
  • I disagree. "in the past couple of years" fits a wider range of meanings and has no actual problems. – SamBC Feb 19 at 10:18
  • What I meant is that "work on" flows better with "during" The same sentence would be fine if "had" was used instead of "worked on": "The projects I had in the past couple of years". – virolino Feb 19 at 10:28
  • "during the past couple of years" is a very weird combination of words. "During" is usually used for a time period defined by other factors, like "during the occupation of France", or "during school hours". – SamBC Feb 19 at 10:48
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All of them are potentially correct. The difference in meaning is subtle and not always definite.

The first example has the verb in question in the simple past. The second in the present perfect. In this context, the two cover a range of situations that have a lot of overlap. Either could be used for a project that you are no longer working on. Either could be used where you are still working on some project(s), or where you are not, though the first would fit more naturally in the case where you no longer work on projects, or at least projects of the same nature. The simple past seems more natural where there's a disconnect - like if you're not longer a software developer, and talking about projects you worked on when you were. However, there's no hard and fast rule here, and there's no good reason to easily explain why either fits more in one situation than another.

The third is the present perfect progressive. It carries the closest association with a project that you are still working on, but it could also fit where you are still working on one or more projects other than the one in question. If you no longer work on the same sort of project (like you're a former software developer, and the projects in question are software), that would not feel entirely appropriate.

Some of this shading of meaning is because you are talking about "one of the most interesting projects", and thus the verb may be seen as referring to the projects, not to the one of. The meanings would shift significantly if it were "the most interesting project", and differently if it were "the most interesting of the projects", and different again for "one of the most interest of the projects".

  • Actually what I had in mind is that there were several projects I was involved in during the past two years. Some of them are more interesting that the others. I'm still working as a software developer, but maybe the project I'm working on right now is not as interesting as the previous ones. And I want to talk about one project that I rank as one of the most interesting. So the verb "work on" refers to all projects (ones that were interesting and ones that were boring). – embedc Feb 19 at 10:55
  • What would be the difference if the beginning of the phrase was "the most interesting project"? No difference I suppose. – embedc Feb 19 at 10:59
  • You're referring to just one project, and that's what the is of 'is about' binds to, but what you've written is (one of (the most interesting projects I've worked on)). Worked on refers to the set of "the most interest projects". Grammatical association is different to meaning. Thus the projects collectively influence the choice of verb tense, mood, aspect etc, as well as the specific project. – SamBC Feb 19 at 11:00
  • Oh, making it "the most interesting project" does change a fair among. "The most interesting project I've been working on" much more strongly indicates that you are still working on it, albeit not actively at the moment you are speaking - it indicates that it is still in progress, and has been for some (non-specific) length of time. "The most interesting project I worked on" implies strongly that you are no longer working on it, and weakly that no-one else is any more either - the project is done. – SamBC Feb 19 at 11:02
  • "The most interesting project I have worked on" implies weakly that you are no longer working on it, and no real implication about whether anyone else is. – SamBC Feb 19 at 11:03

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