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Someone has eaten all the cookies.

Someone has been eating all the cookies.

What is the difference in the two tenses?

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  • In this case, by including the word "all," you've removed much of the difference in meaning, but this has nothing to do with the tense. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 22:00

3 Answers 3

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Including the word "all" has complicated the meaning here, but it has nothing to do with the two tenses. Consider what the sentences would be like without it:

  • "Someone has eaten the cookies": would usually suggest that the cookies have been entirely eaten.
  • "Someone has been eating the cookies": would usually suggest simply that we see evidence that some eating has been happening. Does not necessarily mean that all the cookies have been eaten.

By adding the word "all"—Someone has been eating all the cookies—you force the first meaning onto the second. In fact, it becomes a bit nonsensical (though one could imagine it being said, especially as a whimsical tone).

One could imagine a different example, though, in which combining "all" with present perfect continuous brings a new meaning.

  • "Something has eaten all the rats that have this gene!" —Means that no rats with the gene have survived.
  • "Something has been eating all the rats that have this gene!" —Means that something has been finding many rats, but has only eaten "all" of them that have the gene.

Why does this work but "has been eating all the cookies" sounds odd? Mainly because this new example adds a descriptive modifier. If we said "Someone has been eating all the cookies that have nuts," it would be more plausible.

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Someone has eaten all the cookies.

This action is past in terms of the present but we don't know when in the past as we speak now. Just that it began at some undefined period

Compare: Someone ate all the cookies [yesterday].

Someone has been eating the cookies.

This action began sometime in the past and was continuous in the past up to the time of speaking. The emphasis is on the action, unlike the present perfect which just tell us that the action was in an undefined past.

[I removed all from the continuous as it just doesn't make much sense.]

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Someone has eaten all the cookies.- present perfect tense

Someone has been eating all the cookies.-present perfect continuous/progressive tense

The present perfect tense lays emphasis on the result of the activity.

The present perfect continuous tense puts emphasis on the activity. It does not matter whether the action has been finished or not.

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