The eggs have been boiled for 10 minutes.

What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that eggs were boiled for 10 minutes? Or does it mean the eggs have been boiling for 10 minutes and they continue boiling in the pot?

I think the latter is correct, because "have been boiled" means they started to be boiled in the past and continue up to now. For example, it has rained for 10 minutes, which means it started to rain in the past and continues up to now.

  • 3
    Without context, we don't know where the eggs are. They could still be in the pot or they could be outside the pot, on a plate, etc. Jan 6, 2022 at 14:09
  • If they are outside the pot, how can you say they've been boiled for ten minutes? Similarly, if it has stopped raining, how can one say it's rained for ten minutes? If someone has moved away from a city, how can we say they've lived in that city for ten years? If she's left a room, can you say "she's stayed in the room for ten minutes"?
    – Stephen
    Jan 6, 2022 at 14:25
  • 1
    Example sentence: Sheri looked at the eggs with eyes like lazers. Marci protested. "They've been prepared just as you ordered, madam. They've been boiled for ten minutes." Jan 6, 2022 at 14:29
  • 2
    @FeliniusRex - eyes like lasers? Jan 6, 2022 at 14:39
  • I'm leaving this question open because neither of the proposed duplicates address the functions of present perfect.
    – gotube
    Jan 6, 2022 at 22:27

3 Answers 3


"They have been boiled" almost certainly means that the process of boiling has been completed. If the eggs were still boiling after 10 minutes, one would probably say:

The eggs have been boiling for 10 minutes.

  • Do you mean that it's uncommon or that it's incorrect to use this sentence if the eggs are still boiling, now at the 10-minute mark?
    – gotube
    Jan 6, 2022 at 22:43

The present perfect tense has many different functions, which means it's possible for it to cause ambiguity. This is one of those cases.

All functions of the present perfect somehow relate a past event to the present time, and often in an indirect way.

The two possible functions in this context are:

  1. describe a finished event in the past with present result
  2. describe an event that began in the past and continues into the present

With function 1, it indicates the eggs were cooked for 10 minutes, and are no longer cooking. The real indirect intention of the sentence might be, "The eggs are ready to eat" or "you should not use the eggs for baking".

With function 2, it indicates the eggs started boiling 10 minutes ago, and are still boiling now. The real indirect intention of the sentence might be, "It's time to stop boiling them".

It's worth noting that for this second function, present perfect continuous is much more natural and common:

The eggs have been boiling for 10 minutes

  • With function 1, I think the normal expression is the eggs have been boiled. If you add "for 10 minutes", that sounds they're still boiling in the pot. I've learned how to swim, for example, also describe a finished event in the past with present result. It doesn't go with a period of time, say, for a month. I've learned how to swim for a month, doesn't work.
    – Stephen
    Jan 7, 2022 at 5:11
  • @Stephen Even with "for 10 minutes", the sentence can have function 1. Your example about swimming isn't a good parallel for boiling because in that context, "learn" has the meaning of "become able to swim". The meaning of the word includes the fact that the learning period is necessarily complete. This is not the case with "boil" -- an egg can be boiled for 100 years. The present result is how well cooked the egg currently is, and the number of minutes it was cooked (at some unspecified time in the past) indicates this.
    – gotube
    Jan 7, 2022 at 5:18
  • Thank you. It's still very difficult for me to grasp. With function 1, can you please give me some more examples of the sentences including a period of time?
    – Stephen
    Jan 7, 2022 at 6:23
  • 2
    @Stephen "The plant in the red pot has been watered for 15 consecutive days" is as ambiguous as your sentence about the eggs -- it could mean the plant is still being watered, or it could mean it was watered for 15 days and then allowed to dry out. In the latter case, the use of present perfect is appropriate, for example, when the plant is still being monitored.
    – gotube
    Jan 7, 2022 at 6:34
  • Can I say present perfect simple +a period of time doesn't necessarily mean an action which started in the past and continues up to now? I've lived in London for ten years, in Paris for two years, and now I live in Geneva. In this sentence, I've lived in London for ten years means I used to live in London for ten years.
    – Stephen
    Jan 7, 2022 at 8:58


Present perfect passive

  • They have been boiled for 10 minutes.

Now, when I tell you this in the present, the above is true. It tells us how long they were boiled and that it is over but not when it actually occurred. This use of the present perfect is one of the hardest one for many learners. I call it the vague past tense.


Simple past passive

  • They were boiled for 10 minutes, starting at 10:30 a.m.

I tell you this now about something that happened in the recent past at a particular time.

Whoops, forgot the continuous!

Present perfect continuous:

The eggs have been boiling for ten minutes.

That means they are still in a pan/pot on the stove, boiling.

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