Knowing when to use what tense is already confusing for anybody learning the English language, let alone understanding the subtle differences within a single tense. For instance, how does one know when to use either “has been” or “have been”?
Has been is used when the subject of the sentence is either he, she, it, or a singular noun. Have been is only used when the subject of the sentences is either I, you, we, they, or a plural noun. Has been is used with singular nouns in the third person and have been is used in first/second person singular and all plural cases. Both are used within the present perfect continuous tense.
If this is a common point of confusion for you, or you would just like clarification on the difference between using “has been” or “have been,” then this article is for you.
Has Been Versus Have Been
Do not let the subtle differences within a single tense intimidate you. By following a few simple rules and practice, you can gain confidence when using “has been” or “have been” in sentences.
First, let’s discuss the most vital similarity between “has been” and “have been.” They are both used in the present perfect continuous tense, one of the 12 verb tenses of the English language.
Second, the differences between “has been” and “have been” will help you understand when to use which one in a present-perfect-continuous-tense sentence. We use “has been” for the third-person singular, while “have been” is for the first and second person singular as well as all plural uses.
The third-person singular means that the subject of the sentence needs to be either he, she, it, or a singular noun, such as bird, flower, or chair, to be followed by “has been” in a present-perfect-continuous-tense sentence.
For “have been,” the subject of the present-perfect-continuous sentence needs to be either I, you, we, they, or any plural noun, such as birds, flowers, or chairs.
Asking yourself whether your subject is singular or plural is a simple rule to follow to help determine if you should follow with “has been” or “have been.”
To better understand the differences between using “has been” and “have been” in a sentence, here are some simple examples:
|Has Been||Have Been|
|My dog has been chewing his bone.||The dogs have been chewing their bones.|
|It has been doing very well.||We have been doing very well.|
|Thomas has been sleeping since returning home from school.||The children have been sleeping since returning home from school.|
|She has been going to the beach every day since Friday.||They have been going to the beach every day since Friday.|
|It has been feeling cold now that winter is upon us.||I have been feeling the cold now that winter is upon us.|
There are many online practice questions you can use to improve your knowledge (source).
Present Perfect Continuous Tense
Knowing when to use present perfect continuous tense can be complicated, so practice writing examples of your own to help you understand this tense better.
What is Present Perfect Continuous Tense?
Present perfect continuous tense is one of 12 tenses in the English language, and it is used when something started happening in the past and is continuing to happen in the present (source).
There is no time limit for using present perfect continuous tense. The action could have started years in the past and is continuing now, or it could have started a few minutes in the past and is continuing now, you would still use present perfect continuous tense.
A common giveaway to tell if a sentence is in the present perfect continuous tense is to look out for the “has” or “have” followed directly by “been.” No other tense uses “has been” or “have been.”
If you see either one in a sentence followed by a verb ending in -ing, you will know for certain it is in the present perfect continuous tense.
Each tense has its own formula to follow as a guideline (source). Here is the formula for present perfect continuous tense below:
subject + has/have + been + verb-ing + object
Here are a few simple examples to help you form an idea of when you should use present perfect continuous tense:
|Subject + has/have + been + verb-ing + Object|
|They have been driving for two hours.|
|It has been raining a lot lately.|
|Amy has been riding a bicycle since she was three years old.|
|The butterflies have been migrating for a month.|
|Her chair has been standing outside since last night.|
The formula is just a guideline. Sometimes, the sentence will still have “has been” or “have been,” without being followed by a verb ending in -ing.
|Following the Formula||Without a verb ending in -ing|
|Her chair has been standing outside.||Her chair has been left outside.|
|They have been waiting at the door.||They have been at the door.|
|The cat has been lying on the couch.||The cat has been on the couch.|
Remember, although the formula includes a verb ending in -ing, it is the “has been” and “have been” that gives away the present perfect continuous tense.
What about “Had Been”?
Knowing when to use “had been,” instead of “has been” or “have been,” is another common point of confusion worth mentioning.
“Has Been,” “Have Been,” or “Had Been?”
Although it may seem confusing, as all three sound so similar, there is a very big difference between “had been” and “has/have been.” The simple way to tell whether you should use “had been” is if the action was happening in the past.
“Had Been” is only used in the past present continuous tense, meaning that the action would have happened in the present moment of the past and continued for a period of time.
Let’s compare the same action happening in the present perfect continuous tense using “has been” and “have been” with the past perfect continuous tense using “had been.”
|has been||The cat has been chasing the mouse.|
|had been||The cat had been chasing the mouse.|
|have been||The cats have been chasing the mouse.|
What is Past Perfect Continuous Tense?
You will use past perfect continuous tense when something started happening in the past and continued to happen for a period of time, ending at another time in the past as well.
A common giveaway “had” followed directly by “been.” No other tense uses “had been,” so if you see either one in a sentence followed by a verb ending in -ing, you will know for certain it is in the past perfect continuous tense.
Here is a similar formula for past perfect continuous tense:
subject + had + been + verb-ing + object
Let’s look at some examples to give you a clear image of the past present continuous tense:
|We had been driving for 100 miles.|
|The birds had been singing all day.|
|They had been laughing before the movie ended.|
|She had been eating for 30 mins before he walked in.|
|I had been smiling at my daughter throughout her concert.|
Past Perfect vs. Present Perfect
With both past perfect continuous tense and present perfect continuous tense, the action must have started sometime in the past. In neither case is there any time limit when this could have been. The action could have started years in the past or have started a few minutes in the past.
The primary difference between the two tenses is that with present perfect continuous tense, the action must still be continuing in the present moment, whereas, with past perfect continuous tense, the action must have stopped happening at some point before the present moment.
“Has Been,” “Have Been,” and “Had Been” Contractions
You can use contractions in some cases for “has been,” “have been,” or “had been.” The writing style is important for English learners to master over time. You can use Dreyer’s English as a style guide, which you can also find on Amazon.
|Has Been||Have Been||Had Been|
|She’s been absent today.||They’ve been absent today.||They’d been absent that day.|
|The dog’s been chewing his bone since this morning.||They’ve been chewing their bones since this morning.||They’d been chewing their bones since that morning.|
|He’s been waiting all day.||We’ve been waiting all day.||We’d been waiting all day.|
When using “have been” or “had been,” a simple noun cannot form part of a contraction.
For a similar article on tenses with singular and plural nouns, make sure you read, “What’s the Difference between ‘There Was’ and ‘There Were.’“
When it comes to points of confusion while learning the English Language, do not let them intimidate you, just put in the time to practice forming sentences of your own and have a friend or teacher check them for you.
Learning another language is never easy. If you are feeling frustrated on your journey, keep in mind that the English Language is the hardest language to learn because of all the nuances it contains. You’re doing a great job already!