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I have a question about repetitive actions.

I've read in many books and article that we use Present Perfect for repetitive actions. like:

I have eaten squid 3 times.

but today, when I was reading American English File 4 book, in its Grammar chapter, I see this:

we use present perfect continuous for repeated actions, especially with a time expression, e.g., all day, recently.

I haven't been sleeping well.
It's been raining all day.

Now, I'm totally confused!

Are these two definitions referring to the same thing? Are repetitive actions and repeated actions are same thing? If the answer is yes, then what should we do with this ambiguity and what tense we should use for this repetitive/repeated actions?

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  • English File is a fantastic series of books, but sometimes they say weird things, like calling "It's been raining all day" as an example of a "repeated" action, rather than a "continuous" or "ongoing" action.
    – gotube
    Jul 21, 2022 at 4:09

1 Answer 1

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The book is correct, and there's no contradiction because both present perfect and present perfect continuous can be used to express repeated actions. These are grammatically correct:

I haven't slept well for the last few nights.
It's rained all day.

Also, yes, when a grammar book talks about "repetitive" actions, it usually means the same thing as "repeated" actions.

The difference in these cases between continuous and non-continuous is the normal difference: present perfect continuous focuses more on the duration, while present perfect focuses more on the action itself.

So take these two scenarios:

  1. A: Why can't you eat spicy food?
    B: I've had stomach troubles for the last year.
  2. A: Why has your athletic performance dropped so much this season?
    B: I've been having stomach troubles for the last year.

In the first case, the speaker wants to focus on the fact they've had stomach troubles because that's the reason they don't eat spicy food. The bit about "for the last year" is just extra information, so they chose present perfect.

But in the second situation, the speaker wants to focus on how long they have been suffering, which explains why their performance has been bad all season. The actual health condition isn't as important as how long it's been happening, so the speaker chose present perfect continuous.

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  • as you said in the comment, can we say raining and not sleeping are not repetitive actions and maybe they are continuous action or procedure? Jul 21, 2022 at 9:39
  • it seems that American English File assumes a duration(a period of time from past until now) as 'repeated action' whereas in Present perfect, the meaning of 'repeated word' refers to some discrete and separate action that have happened several time in the past. am I right? Jul 21, 2022 at 10:29
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    @MohammadMehdiSarfejoo "Not sleeping" is a repeated action because it happens every night. And yes, like I said above, "raining" is a continuous action.
    – gotube
    Jul 21, 2022 at 15:15
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    @MohammadMehdiSarfejoo I think the English File writers are using the term "repeated" as jargon to include not only repeated things, but also continuous things. To me, that's a mistake.
    – gotube
    Jul 21, 2022 at 15:15
  • I think I haven't been sleeping well. refers to a period of time (for example 2 days) that the guy has not slept well. and you know what is my problem with that specific sentence of the book? I can't accept that we can Present Perfect Continuous for some (really) repeated actions. because I've learned that Present Perfect Continuous is for continuous things. if we are using Present Perfect Continuous for that, then that is a period of time. not some repeated actions. Jul 21, 2022 at 21:07

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