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Could you, please, provide me with an explanation as to why "haven't spoken" is an accepted answer instead of "haven't been speaking" in the following example:

My downstairs neighbours .... (speak)since the party last night.

Evidently, the process is an ongoing action and we even have the exact duration time of the event emphasised at the end of the sentence. Yet, the books suggests that the present perfect should be used here and it is also suggested by Google, where the phrase "Haven't spoken to me since" has been used more often than "haven't been speaking to me" (at least on the British websites). Is it something idiomatic in the word "speak" that I miss?

Personally, I would consider it a matter of personal preference - whether we see the event as an ongoing, temporary action or something more permanent.

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  • Who told you that? They were wrong. If you do some searches here, you will find many answers to this.
    – Lambie
    Nov 27, 2023 at 21:36
  • Does this answer your question? Present perfect and present perfect continuous
    – Lambie
    Nov 27, 2023 at 21:41
  • Thank you for the comment but I am afraid it only says what I already know. Besides, can you tell me what I am wrong about? I feel that the answer lies in the explanation provided by Andy below but now I have been wondering how we can use present perfect continuous in a negation.
    – Penguin422
    Nov 28, 2023 at 6:05
  • Not to be speaking to someone is an ongoing situation - the people concerned avoid all opportunities for conversation. But 'since last night' isn't a very long time, so it's quite reasonable to say "My neighbours haven't spoken [to me?] since last night". You may only have seen them once since then! Nov 28, 2023 at 9:15
  • As Andy says below, this is not a grammar question. It is about what you want to say. One stresses continuity of action, the other doesn't. As my duplicate says: "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.," Or the lack of action up to the present moment, emphasis on the action.
    – Lambie
    Nov 28, 2023 at 14:45

1 Answer 1

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This isn't really a grammar problem, it's more of a logic one. "Speaking" is both something that could happen for a specific discrete time or for a period of time. You say, "evidently, the process is an ongoing action," but that's far from evident. We're dealing with a negation; a state of not-speaking has been ongoing. But that means an ongoing "lack of action," so it's perfectly reasonable to refer a duration of time that was marked by a specific action. We could do this with any number of verbs that can't handle sustained durations: "This gun hasn't fired since the Great War," or "I haven't broken a plate since Tuesday."

In other words, the only reason you're confused is because you're focusing on the opposite of what the sentence really says: It doesn't say "We've been not-speaking since the party"; instead it focuses not on a duration of time but on elapsed time since a certain event.

To be sure, you could communicate the same idea by focusing on the duration. Yes, you could say "We haven't been speaking since ___" and it's perfectly fine.

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  • Thank you Andy. Is there a valid example of a sentence in which a present perfect continuous negation would work? To me, most verbs can be understood from the angle provided in your explanation.
    – Penguin422
    Nov 28, 2023 at 6:07
  • @Penguin422 Well, as I said, present perfect continuous ("haven't been speaking") does work. It's a perfectly valid option. Your question seemed to be why plain old present perfect, without the continuous, was also okay. And if the real question is "why didn't [some test or assignment] accept my answer," then the answer to that is usually "because it was an imperfect test and didn't account for all possible valid answers." If you're being graded by a human to whom you can appeal, then if they're reasonable they ought to accept your answer, unless plain old present perfect was requested. Nov 28, 2023 at 14:48

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