I have joined a grammar MOOC starting with an introduction to English tenses. One of the practice questions left me confused. The question is as follows:

Do these two sentences have similar meaning or different meaning?

  1. Julie has studied French for two years.
  2. Julie has been studying French for two years.

I'm not sure how similar is similar, but having a questionable sense of the language I think I should follow the rules. Grammar books state that Continuous tenses are designed to emphasise duration. If an author finds relevant to emphasise the duration, this semantic or emotional meaning is relevant to the reader.

Both of the sentences deliver information about the duration. I'm not sure if there exists any difference in connotation or the second sentence is an example of 'grammatical tautology'.

  • the sentences are not similar. – Archie Azares Jul 14 '16 at 6:36
  • please refer to this link for details. english.stackexchange.com/questions/21846/… – Archie Azares Jul 14 '16 at 6:38
  • @ArchieAzares, thank you for the diagram, it is very descriptive. – Dmitry Borisoglebsky Jul 14 '16 at 7:35
  • If I understood it correctly, the first sentence informs the reader of a stopped two years long action, while the second sentence informs of an ongoing two years long action, which makes a significant difference. – Dmitry Borisoglebsky Jul 14 '16 at 7:45
  • That's correct. I think you now have the idea of how it works. – Archie Azares Jul 14 '16 at 8:46

In spoken English, there are two interpretations possible: 1) Dissimilar, in that in example 1 Julie has completed her study of French after two years; or 2) Similar, in that Julie has studied and is continuing to study French after two years. Nothing inherent in the two examples, in my experience, enables one to distinguish which the speaker/writer means. Again, in spoken English, the presence of "has" in the first example implies that a longer period may well be in the offing. In other words, it implies an ongoing action. In its absence, the past tense is implied, suggesting the period is complete.

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