Situation: Yesterday I painted half of my room (for any reason I'm not going to continue, maybe I've broken my leg). A friend of mine comes into the room the next day. He says: What's the smell? Which of these can we use to answer and which is better?

  1. Me: I'm sorry about the smell. I've been painting the room.
  2. Me: I'm sorry about the smell. I was painting the room.
  3. Me: I'm sorry about the smell. I painted the room.

The answer might help me better understand what prevents me from using some English aspects. Completion of the action (half of the room), the time of last doing the action (yesterday), the intention to continue (I'm not going to continue).

3 Answers 3


The simple answer is that all three are reasonable, though #3 is a less likely choice, and that your friend would get no significant difference in meaning from any of them.

It's true that #3, the simple past, can imply that the painting project is completed, but context is more important than verb tense in creating meaning. As your friend stands in the half-painted room, it's obvious that it's not fully "painted" yet. And if you plan to do no more, and your "painting effort" is complete, none of these options communicates that clearly. You'll have to use more, clearer communication. You could imagine a conversation like:

A: I'm sorry about the smell. I painted my room.
B: Are you going to finish later?
A: No, I'm done.
B: What do you mean, you're done? Only half the room is painted!
A: I mean I'm done with it. I just don't have the patience anymore.

(Of course "A" has been rather confusing in this conversation. He could simply have explained in his first statement—"I was painting my room, but I'm not going to do any more.")

There are some earlier questions about how much the simple or perfect or continuous tenses can imply the completion of actions, and the summary is, "context always impacts the meaning more than the tense does."

To address #s 1 and 2: In this example, there's hardly any difference in meaning. You painted just yesterday. If the event you're talking about was farther in the past, or more removed from your present circumstances, there could be a bigger difference:

Employer [in a job interview]: It says on your resume that you have some knowledge of java?
Applicant: Yes, although my current job mostly uses javascript, I've been using java for some tasks for the past 3 months.

In this case, the event was very recent, and there hasn't really been a clear time that the applicant "stopped" using java. Present perfect continuous is the best choice. If the applicant said "I was using java," it would be a bit odd, since they're talking about a broad time frame. On the other hand, in your example, to say "I was painting" is more reasonable, since it was just yesterday, and obviously you "stopped" since you're not in the act of painting right now (it doesn't say whether the project is concluded or not).

Similarly, if the job applicant had used java for a brief period in an earlier job, a few years ago, then "I've been using java" would be misleading, and "I used" or "I was using" would be better.


Personally, I would go with number 1. We use the Present Perfect Continuous tense to talk about action that started in the past and is continuing now. While it is true that you're not painting as you speak, the effect of the action you started in the past continues into the present time. Therefore, number 1 is a better choice.

  • 1
    Agreed. (3) doesn't imply that you recently left off in the middle of painting the room. Apr 6, 2022 at 11:44
  1. means you still paint your room.
  2. means you're describing the process of painting that doesn't have a direct relation to the current moment and is finished
  3. means you painted your room regularly in the past or it happened once since then
  • 2
    Welcome to ELL. When we write answers here, we do our best to use correct English. Apr 6, 2022 at 13:29
  • [correction: means you are still painting your room]
    – Lambie
    Apr 6, 2022 at 15:40

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