Suppose I started working on a project several years ago and right now I'm still working on the same project. If I want to express this to someone else what tense should I use? The statement should make clear that the action in question is still ongoing, i.e. that I'm still working on this project.

I have been working on this project for several years.

I have worked on this project for several years.

Both sound like the action recently finished. Or am I wrong here?


I'd use the Present Continuous tense in the first clause, this tells your readers that you are presently occupied. For the second clause, the Simple Past seems the most appropriate, the action—starting a project—is fixed at a specified point in time.

  • I'm currently working on a project which I began several years ago.

    Both forms, Present Perfect and PP Continuous, are often interchangeable and there is usually little difference in meaning. However, for actions that extend for longer periods the PP is usually preferred. Compare:

    1. I've been living in LA for a couple of years
    2. I've lived in LA for a couple of years

    3. I've lived in LA all my life

The PPC in sentence 1 suggest that the arrangement, or action , is a temporary ongoing one whereas sentence 2 could suggest that the speaker no longer lives in LA, this ambiguity is removed in sentence 3 because of the specific time reference used: “all my life”.

In the OP's example “several years” is a vague time reference, does it mean more or less than ten years? A few might say “several” means more than two but fewer than many while other native speakers might feel that several is between five and nine, or between five and fifteen or even as many as twenty. [source]. Consequently, if the OP is concerned with the most precise and correct tense to use, they should specify the number of years. The longer the period, the more I would recommend using PP with the caveat that the time reference should refer to when the action began. For example,

  1. I've worked on this project since 2002

In sentence 4, the speaker is still working on the project. This action may or may not be continuous, it may or may not have been interrupted, only further context will clarify.

  • I used "several" as a placeholder which could be replaced by any number of years (aiming for a general solution). You mentioned that for longer periods PP is more appropriate. Is there any rule-of-thumb for when a period is too long for PPC? – a_guest Mar 29 '17 at 9:08
  • @a_guest there are no hard or fast rules, but anything longer than twenty years would suggest a more permanent than temporary condition/action. If you want to emphasise the action (Dystopian armies have been fighting continuously since last summer) use PPC, if you want to emphasise the duration, (e.g. "Utopia has been at war for 25 years") and/or suggest that the action is completed then opt for PP. – Mari-Lou A Mar 29 '17 at 9:20

Unfortunately, I don't think there is more specific way than "have been working' to indicate the project is ongoing.

The only thing that comes to mind for me is "have continued to"

I have continued to work on this project for several years.

  • I like your idea with "have continued to", that definitely makes the situation clearer! – a_guest Mar 29 '17 at 9:11

The major difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive is that while both the tenses expressing a connection to the present time, the former emphasizes the completion of the action and the latter focuses on the continuity of the action.

From Learn English/British Council

The present perfect simple gives the idea of completion while the present perfect continuous suggests that something is unfinished.

I’ve been decorating the house this summer. The focus is on the action – decorating – and the action is unfinished.

I’ve painted the living room blue. The focus is on the finished result. The activity is finished but we can see the result now.

I’ve read that book you lent me. I finished it yesterday.

I’ve been reading that book you lent me. I’ve got another 50 pages to read.

  • I've worked on this project for several years and I'm still not done. – Arm the good guys in America Mar 25 '17 at 16:09
  • It would be helpful to know the mistakes and correction can be made, if the down-voters cite the reason. – mahmud k pukayoor Mar 25 '17 at 16:41
  • The website you quote uses oversimplified guidelines/examples and the sentence I wrote in my first comment demonstrates just that. – Arm the good guys in America Mar 25 '17 at 16:46
  • @Clare,"Both the present perfect tenses (simple and progressive) can be used to talk about recent actions and situations that have present results. There is an important difference. The present perfect progressive focuses on the action/situation itself, looking at it as a continuous, extended activity (not necessarily finished). The simple present perfect, on the other hand, looks more at the ideas of completion and the present result". This quote is from Michael Swan's Practical English Usage. Is it acceptable? – mahmud k pukayoor Mar 26 '17 at 2:27
  • Swan's statement also sounds like an oversimplification. – Arm the good guys in America Mar 26 '17 at 19:24

If your goal is to describe continuous uninterrupted action, then certainly your first choice is quite correct:

I have been working on this project for several years.

The other one is more ambiguous, allowing for unscheduled holidays, sabbaticals, and what not:

I have worked [intermittently] on this project for several years [and I might get back to it tonight unless I suddenly have better things to do].


Present prefect tense is used to describe an action that is finished at the time of speaking, e.g.- 'I have understood it' but it can also be used to show an action thas is still going, for example- he has lived here for ten years. { implies 'and he still lives here'.} [ whereas, the simple past tense, "he lived here for ten years". { implies 'but he no longer lives here'.} ] , similarly, I have worked in this company for six months. {implies 'and still work here'.}, [ whereas the simple past tense sentence ''I worked in this company for six months''. { implies ' but I do not work here anymore'. } ]

It can also be used to show that the action has recently finished but this type of sentence will often include the word 'just', e.g. 1) he has just come. 2) I have just finished it.

It takes the form: subject + have / has + 3rd form of verb + ...

Present perfect continuous tense is used to describe an action that is still happening or has recently finished and it takes the form: Subject + have/ has + been + -ing form of verb +...

For example - " he has been studying hard recently".

[ Note the word 'recently' added after the sentence, without this word 'recently', the sentence can mean both 'he has been studying hard recently or he has been studying hard from a long time ago'. ]

You can use both the tense to mean that the action was started long ago and is still going but it is more advisable to use 'present perfect continuous tense', It can be easily understood by the non-native English speakers ( of course, they should know the meaning of each word ).

Although, both tense can be used to mean that the action has recently finshed but if you just say that ' I have been working on this project for several years' and nothing before that, and nothing after that, it will imply that you are still working, whereas, if you say 'I finally did it, I have been working on this project for several years!'. It would imply that you have just finished working with the project, whereas, the second sentence 'I have worked on this project for several years', can imply either 'I have finished with the project' or 'I am still working on it' depending on the context or what you will say after it but it is not implying that the action has recently finished. You have to add something to the end of the sentence.

For example- I have worked on this project for six months + ( 'and now, I am finished' or 'and now, I have finished it' or 'and now, i have finished working with it'.

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