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I know that it's a norm to use Present Perfect (Continuous) with "in/for the past few + time"

  1. I have been staying with my parents for the last few days.
  2. I have learnt a lot of new words in the last few days.

But what if I want to emphasize that these activities (staying, learning) are not in progress anymore, though they have just stopped. Let's see a situation

A student is coming back to University from his parents' house. And he happens to have a small talk with one of the passengers on the same bus he has taken to get to the University.

A: I am on my way to University.
B: And where have you been?
A: I am coming back from my parents. In fact, I have been staying with my parents for the last few days.

I have doubts about the usage of Present Perfect Continuous here.

a) Technically, he is not staying there any more, so it's not OK to use PPC here.

b) So, it would be better to use Past Simple (or Past Continuous).

c) But it's also not OK to use Past Simple (or Past Continuous) with "for the few past days". He could have said "I was staying (or I spent) a few days at my parents'". But in this case it doesn't emphasize clearly enough that his staying is recent because "for the few past days" should be eliminated.

That is why I am pondering over this construction

3) I was staying with my parents for the last few days. On one hand, it shows that his staying is recent, on the other hand it shows that it's over now. If this is wrong, how would you convey the same idea differently?

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"I was staying with my parents for the last few days." is a very good choice. The only alternative I can think of that you haven't mentioned is "I had been staying with my parents for the last few days and now I'm going back to University." Or "I spent a few days with my parents and now I'm going back to University." However, it only works well if you refer to both events (staying with my parents and going to University) to show the relative time that the events have happened. By including what is currently happening, the few days you spent with your parents becomes recent through the context of the sentence.

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I don't think I was staying with my parents for the last few days is good usage. You won't hear people saying it that way, at least in the Eastern US. It will almost always be phrased as I've been staying with my parents. If the action is completed as in the OP you can also simply say, I was at my parents.

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".. the last few days" includes today, so the time isn't finished.

You need to use present perfect continuous.

I've been staying with my parents for the last few days.

  • I see your point. What if it was yesterday (the day before)? – user1425 Dec 30 '18 at 12:37
  • When the time is finished, use the simple past. Two minutes ago, two days ago, two years ago, yesterday, the day before yesterday. All finished. Therefore: I stayed with my parents for a few days. – Matt Dec 30 '18 at 20:29
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If you have just left your parents' house and you are still travelling on the bus the present perfect continuous is fine, because it is a very recent event. The day after however I would use past simple, because more time has passed. I stayed with my parents for a few days or I spent a few days at my parents' house.

  • Typo there, Anouk. parents' house – Matt Dec 30 '18 at 23:11

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