Advanced Grammar In Use by Martin Hewings starts with the following in Unit 6 'Present perfect continuous and present perfect':

We use the present perfect continuous to express the idea of an activity (a task, piece of work, etc.) in progress until recently or until the time of speaking:

  • Have you been working in the garden all day? You look exhausted.

  • She 's been writing the book since she was in her twenties and at last it's finished.

Notice that we often use time expressions to say how long the activity has been in progress.

The first sentence I think can be said either while the listener is still working in the garden or after the work is done, whereas the second one I think can only be said after the writing is done (because it's mentioned that it's finished). Am I right?

Now, with that in mind, is the present perfect continuous compatible with 'ever since' as shown in (1) and (2)?

(1) Have you been working in the garden ever since this morning? You look exhausted. [You may or may not be working in the garden at the time of speaking.]

(2) She 's been writing the book ever since she was in her twenties and at last it's finished. [She is not writing the book at the time of speaking.]

The purpose of this question is to figure out whether the time expression 'ever since' can be used only when the situation being described is still in progress at the time of speaking.

Analysis A: 'Ever since' can be used only when the situation being described is still in progress at the time of speaking. Therefore, (1) is grammatically accurate only if the listener is still working in the garden at the time of speaking, whereas (2) is grammatically inaccurate under any context imaginable.

Analysis B: 'Ever since' can be used even when the situation being described is not in progress any longer at the time of speaking. Therefore, both (1) and (2) are grammatically accurate regardless of further context.

Which analysis is correct? And Why?

  • In the second example, it is just as natural (if not more natural) if she’s still writing the book. It sounds just a tiny bit odd to me to add “and at last it’s finished” instead of “and it’s still not finished” (this is regardless of whether you use since or ever since: the example from the book is a bit off for me as well). In the first example, ever since isn’t a superb fit, because the intensifying ever hints at a longer period of time than just ‘since this morning’. But both are perfectly grammatical and not entirely unlikely to be heard in normal conversation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '19 at 9:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks for the feedback. But I don't understand why you'd think AGIU's second example sounds off. As far as I know, the present perfect continuous can certainly describe a situation that is not ongoing at the time of speaking. For example, you can say "It's been raining, but it's now sunny." – JK2 Aug 1 '19 at 9:31
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    Yes, but not with a defined starting point. That’s just the perfect in general, not specific to the perfect continuous. “I’ve been in Rome, but I’m not anymore” is fine, but “I’ve been in Rome since Wednesday, but I’m not anymore” doesn’t work. Similarly, “It’s been raining, but now it’s sunny” is fine, but “It’s been raining since this morning, but now it’s sunny” is off, though less definitely so. Even more jarring is “I’ve been sitting here waiting for three hours, but I’m not anymore”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '19 at 9:35
  • “In progress until recently” is critical to the author’s description of when the present perfect continuous is appropriate. How recently? Does the author give examples of when the criterion is not met? Clearly it cannot be used with actions completed further in the past. What is said on this? – Xanne Aug 1 '19 at 9:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Could you cite a reference that supports your claim that this type of the perfect cannot be used "with a defined starting point"? I've never heard of such a restriction. If you're saying it's not just a bit odd but it "doesn't work", are you claiming that AGIU made a mistake of using an ungrammatical sentence? – JK2 Aug 1 '19 at 11:46

It doesn't need any fancy analysis, it is literally the definition of "ever since" that it is still happenning:

A. I. 1. b. Limited by a following adverb, preposition, or conjunction, as in ever after(-ward), ever before, ever since, ever yet, etc.: throughout all the time before or after a specified point in time. OED (emphasis mine)

That said, regardless of whether they may technically be grammatical, as a style matter, I think both of your example sentences would both be improved by removing the redundant "ever." Both have a clearly operating "since" plus temporal pointer that does not need "ever" for clarity or for intensifying (in fact, the intensifying sense of "ever since" makes little sense in the first one, give the short duration). Even in longer scales of time, the "ever" may not be needed as an intensifier. Consider:

Since the dawn of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I will do the next best thing; block it out! ["Who Shot Mr Burns? (Part One)." Groening, Matt et al. The Simpsons S 06 E 25. 1995.]

While in this case, "ever since" would make sense as an intensifier, it is not required for either meaning or intent. Compare:

I once ran into a tree head-first on my bike. I have worn a helmet ever since.

In this example, "ever" is necessary in order to clearly establish the temporal relationship, though "ever since" could be replaced with "since then" or "since that time," much as in your example cases.

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  • Please be advised that the question is not about whether 'ever' is necessary but whether 'ever' is compatible (be it necessary or not). That's why the title is "When can the present perfect continuous be used with 'ever since'?", not "When must the present perfect continuous be used with 'ever since'?". – JK2 Aug 1 '19 at 9:17
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    And the answer, as with all cases of a language where grammar is defined by use is 'it depends.' There is a clear and documented case to be made against ever in some cases, but there is a less clear, but no less important case against it in other uses. The answer would be misleading if it simply accepted that the cases are correct on a technicality, when they would both sound off to an editor. – larkvi Aug 1 '19 at 9:30

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