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Consider the following sentence:

  • Have you been watering the plants?

Is the above sentence grammatically correct? Or should it be something like:

  • Have you been watering the plants for 5 minutes?

i.e. when you see the use of 'have been' with present participle form you also use the time of start.

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The first sentence is a fine sentence. It does not need a time. For example the sentence could be the shortened form of, "Have you been watering the plants [like I asked you to do?]" –  Jim Jun 23 '12 at 4:32

1 Answer 1

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You can certainly use the present perfect continuous without an expression of time. In such a case you are interested only in the activity, not in its starting point or duration. For example:

  • Your shoes are wet. Have you been watering the plants?

If you want to emphasise when you started the activity, you need to use since:

  • I've been watering the plants since 5 o'clock.

And if you want to emphasise the duration, you need to use for:

  • I've been watering the plants for 5 minutes.

The specific question Have you been watering the plants for 5 minutes? is grammatical but unlikely. One possible scenario is that your wife has asked you to water the plants for 3 minutes only and suspects you might have exceeded the time limit she set.

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Is it wrong if I just ask, Have you been watering the plants? without adding more context like in your example? –  user312641 Jun 23 '12 at 6:15
    
No, it is not wrong. It is the normal question to ask if you are interested only in the doing of the activity, and not in how long it has taken or when it started. –  Shoe Jun 23 '12 at 6:28
    
The claim "if you want to emphasise the duration, you need to use for" is incorrect because "I've been watering the plants five minutes" also is acceptable and has about the same meaning. –  jwpat7 Jun 25 '12 at 4:26

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