I came across some present perfect language exercises that I question.

Choose Present Perfect Simple or Continuous:

The place looks like a bombsite! What _____________ (do) all day?

Well, I've chosen "have you done" but the answer is "have you been doing". Why?


The British Museum has also announced a forthcoming exhibition of artifacts from the Stonehenge period which they _________________ (gather) over the last five years.

The answer is "have gathered", but I can't understand why. If you have "over the last five years" it seems to me this action was in progress during this five years.

Please, help me.

Thank you in advance!

Well, thanks for the comments, but to me, it isn't a duplicated question because I understand each tense separately and the idea of completion of the present perfect and the ongoing idea of Present perfect continuous. My question is: where is the completion idea in the second example? Let me explain myself, I thought in the second example the artifacts were being collected like in different events for five years. Some artifacts were collected, then after a given time more were collected over the period of 5 years they haven't collected all at once. And they won't stop collecting after the exhibition. I don't know if I'm making myself clear enough. But I've been looking for an explanation for this and I found one on Martin Hewings' advanced grammar in use book: "present perfect suggests that the activity happened only once or on a specified number of occasions".

  • There is little difference between the two options for the first one. I suppose the continuous because it is assumed it is still that day. (I don't think you'd say 'what have you been doing all day yesterday', more likely 'what did you do...'). What did you suggest for the second one? One could assume that the five years is now over, and they are ready to present their artefacts, so it isn't 'have been gathering'. Arguably both cases are very similar with not much to chose between them. – marcellothearcane May 28 '17 at 16:06
  • Voted to close as duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/q/66894/112436 // Allessandra, if that question doesn't clear things up for you, please edit your question to explain. Also, you may find English Language Learners a good site. – aparente001 May 29 '17 at 4:31
  • The Present Perfect can be used to express an action that began in the past but still continues in the present. It needn't be uninterrupted, the action can have breaks: e.g. He has worked since the age of fourteen. – Mari-Lou A Jun 5 '17 at 6:34
  • If we want to emphasis the result of a particular action that has recently finished, we use the PPC. The kids have been playing football (they are now red-faced, sweating, and their clothes are muddy.) – Mari-Lou A Jun 5 '17 at 6:37
  • In these type of English exercises, they want students to supply the best option. Which means your answers were not wrong, but they were not the most appropriate. There isn't really any significant difference between PP and PPC for actions that are in progress, or have recently concluded. – Mari-Lou A Jun 5 '17 at 6:42

Grammar exercises that contain a random series of sentences where the learner has to choose between two alternatives can be problematic for two reasons.

Firstly, they may lead the learner to believe that only one of the two alternatives on offer is possible, and the other is ungrammatical.

Secondly, sentences in such grammar exercises often contain no contextual clues. The learner has to infer the speaker's communicative intent. As Lewis in The English Verb (p83) states:

" ... any attempt to describe certain grammatical choices objectively is doomed to failure. Account needs to be taken of the centrality of the speaker."

Both alternatives in the OP's two examples are grammatical. In order to choose the more likely alternative in each case, we need to infer the context suggested by other cues in the passage.

The place looks like a bombsite! What _____________ (do) all day?

The context here is probably someone coming home late and seeing the house in total disarray. The speaker conceives of a series of ongoing activities throughout the day that have resulted in the present chaos that she sees all around her. For this reason, the continuous form (What have you been doing all day?) may be considered more likely.

In a normal context, where someone comes home after work and greets the spouse or child, both alternatives are equally possible:

  • What have you done all day? (conceived as a series of completed tasks)

  • What have you been doing all day? (conceived as a series of ongoing activities)

In the following sentence:

The British Museum has also announced a forthcoming exhibition of artifacts from the Stonehenge period which they have gathered over the last five years.

the contextual cues permit the inference that the gathering of artefacts is completed and now the exhibition can take place.

However, the alternative:

The British Museum has also announced a forthcoming exhibition of artifacts from the Stonehenge period which they have been gathering over the last five years.

is equally possible and implies that the gathering was an ongoing process that may or may not now be completed.

In summary, both alternatives in gap-filling exercises may be grammatical. The choice between the two verb constructions on offer will often depend on inference of the speaker's communicative intent, as is the case in the OP's examples.

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