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I think, I can use Present Perfect Continuous(as it can express repeated action too) as well as Present Perfect Simple and they have similar meanings in this case. Am I right?

(I got confused because I have to choose ONE between these two tenses :/ )

  • No, the meanings are completely different.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 19:08
  • @ Lambie without any explanation, how is this helpful?
    – anouk
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


Very often, if you can use a continuous construction, you can also use a simple construction: the difference is not in the objective circumstances or events, but entirely in how the speaker is choosing to think about the events: as a completed or a continuing activity.

In the question What xxx since you left school?, both options are completely natural.

What have you done since you left school? might be paraphrased as "Give me a list of the things you have done since you left school".

What have you been doing since you left school? might be more like "How have you occupied your time since you left school?"

The answer might be exactly the same in the two cases, or it might be different, reflecting that difference in focus.

In this case, following on from When did you leave school?, the simple perfect might be seen as a challenge, meaning something like "Tell me what you have achieved since you left school." But not necessarily - it depends on the tone of voice.

  • By "continuing activity" do you mean continuing from the past up to the present, or having a duration, not necessarily continuing up to the present moment?
    – anouk
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 17:49
  • 1
    @anouk: the meaning of the "perfect" part of this compound expression is that it has some present relevance. Often, that relevance will be that the activity (or the period in which the activity happens) continues up to the present; but there can be other meanings. Here, What have you been doing? certainly invites the other to talk about the whole period up to the present, but it does not demand it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 18:14

I would choose "have been doing", because that means: what have your activities been until now. What have you done sounds like "what have you achieved", which to me sounds a bit demanding, like you are supposed to achieve all the time. It could also be asked in a situation like: a child comes home with torn clothes and you ask: "what have you done?!" in an accusatory way.

  • You're right about the actual example, but I don't think you are about the one you made up. What have you been doing? (or, alternatively, Where have you been?) sounds more probable to me in that situation because you're most likely asking and wondering about the actions in the past. I think What have you done? is a lot more accusatory and as if the person is very shocked. It kinda works, but the former is a more likely response in my opinion. As an aside, I don't know about the use of indignant to describe that response.
    – user3395
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 1:20
  • @ userr2684291: what did I make up and what is not right about it? I have changed "indignant" into "accusatory".
    – anouk
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:26
  • The second scenario – a child coming home with torn clothes, and the pertinent reply.
    – user3395
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 14:30
  • What would you suggest in such a situation? It is accusatory and shocked as well. " Look at what you've done to your clothes!"
    – anouk
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 18:06
  • Suppose your mom has bought you some new, expensive clothes. The clothes are a current topic of conversation if you get me. The buying is a very recent thing. You go to school and come back with the new clothes destroyed. Upon seeing that, your mom says What have you done?!. It has to be something egregious like killing a puppy.
    – user3395
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 18:13

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