Consider these two sentences:

  1. They have been disappointing.
  2. They are disappointing.

Could you tell me how can I identify when to use have been and when to use be-verbs in sentences like these? Is it that I need to use have been when "they" disappoint me, during a period that extends up to the present? And that I need to use be-verbs like are when "they" disappoint me generally?

  • 1
    Note, answerers, that the OP is likely a foreign speaker, and the above was heavily edited by me for clarity. Please consider that fact when formulating your answers.
    – Uticensis
    Apr 2, 2011 at 3:49
  • 3
    possible duplicate of When to use "have had"?
    – apaderno
    Apr 2, 2011 at 5:16

3 Answers 3


They are disappointing.

This is present tense and refers to "now".

I've been following the band for three years and they have been disappointing in their last five concerts.

This refers to a period of time in the past that may extend up to the immediate present. If I remember correctly, it is present perfect.

I've been following the band since they started playing and they were disappointing for the first few months.

This is past tense and refers to a point or period in time in the past, but not extending to the present. The event is in the past.

  • Given that OP is likely a foreign speaker I think this is an good answer. The question doesn't ask for a list of various possible parts of speech in the examples or related utterances. It asks for clarification on when/how to use have been as opposed to are (in the context of a present participle used as an adjective, but I digress...) Apr 3, 2011 at 16:11

You have just outlined the difference between the English

  1. pluperfect or past perfect conjunction of tense and aspect
  2. and the present tense

The pluperfect diagram does a good job of showing that it contains times up to, but not including the present.

pluperfect delineation

  • 2
    Isn't "I have been" using the present perfect?
    – apaderno
    Apr 2, 2011 at 5:19

Sentence One is in fact not Past Perfect, but rather Present Perfect.

Present Perfect: have + V3

Past Perfect: had + V3

Present Perfect is used here to refer to something that started at an undetermined point in the past and continues to be true up to now. It is unclear whether it will continue to be true in the future.

This may therefore, be commenting on their performance so far with a particular project or task.

I think it is important here to point out clearly that Sentence Two, is the following construction:

They (be) + Adjective

and not:

They (be) + V-ing

Therefore, Sentence Two is Present Simple (not continuous).

Present Simple can be used to refer to something that is true right now, but might not have been true in the past and might not continue to be true in the future.


It can be used to refer to something that is accepted as being always true, including scientific fact.


It is cold. (right now)

It is cold in Alaska. (always)

Sentence Two, I think, refers to the people's characteristics. 'They are disappointing' like 'he is annoying', refers to the type of person (or people) that they are, and is therefore always true.

  • Your definitions of the two meanings are clearly correct, but I don't see how referenceing V3 (Verb form #3, aka past participle) clarifies anything. Plus in (2) I don't think it's worth differentiating present participle from adjective Apr 3, 2011 at 15:57
  • I'd like you to deal with your mistakes in our other discussion, re: Fanny Adams, before coming over here and unnecessarily downvoting in other discussions - presumably just because you are sulking. I teach English as a Second Language and it was noted that the asker may be a Second Language speaker. I know that the (be + v-ing) and (be + adj) can be confusing to many second language learners and that the wording of the question (be-verbs) suggests that the asker may think he is dealing with a verb and not an adjective. I have cleared that up.
    – Karl
    Apr 3, 2011 at 16:04
  • As for V3, it is a part of the construction I was explaining (have + V3 = Pres Perf). I'm not quite sure as to what you are objecting. Please clarify.
    – Karl
    Apr 3, 2011 at 16:05
  • I also note that you have downvoted my correct explanation yet have ignored other incorrect answers (i.e. the one which calls the example past perf when it is pres perf). Please show some objectivity and maturity and return to the other discussion and accept that you were mistaken. Thank you.
    – Karl
    Apr 3, 2011 at 16:09
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    @karl Millsom: Please accept my apologies if you feel slighted. You seem to be correct re Fanny Adams, as I have acknowledged (I hadn't actually noticed it was you in both threads). I also acknowledged in my first comment that your definitions are correct in this thread. I just felt that in this context (and assumed background of OP), the layout and level of lexical analysis you presented wouldn't be as helpful as teylyn's offering. Truly, no offense was intended. Apr 3, 2011 at 18:28

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