have been coming or have come

In my last post I asked for your help with ‘How long have you used this book?’ vs ‘How long have you been using this book?’

With the same logic would it be possible to say:

‘How long have you been coming to this class?’ (I’m interested in the time duration e.g. for how many months)
‘How long have you come to his class?’ (Suggestive of ‘How many semesters/lessons etc. have you attended until now?’)

The second one sounds a bit peculiar to me. Could you clear my mind on this?

Thank you,

Hi Krisztina,

I didn’t read your previous post (shame on me!) to see what kind of answer, but probably you were told (or you knew already) that we use the present perfect (“have come”) either to describe something that happened in the past at an unspecified time:

“I have been to Bali” (in my life) vs.
“I went to Bali” (last summer)

or to describe something that started in the past and continues into the present:

“I have been a teacher” (and still am) vs.
“I was a teacher” (but I got tired of those kids!)

Combining it with the progressive form (“have been coming”) suggests not only that it’s the second scenario (it continues into the present), but also that you are doing it right at this moment. You are in class right now, so you came here today, and you have been coming to this class for weeks now.

Not combining it with the progressive (“have come”) suggests that it’s the first scenario (happened in the past, completed, but at an unspecified time). In that case, you’re right that it would suggest how many times someone came to class, but since you are talking about discreet numbers of events, you would ask “how many times” or “how often.” The first question would give you an absolute number (“I have come to class 10 times”), while the second would give you a frequency (“I have come to class twice a week”).

The problem with this second usage is that if you’re talking about how many times someone has come to class (in the present perfect), then your talking about an unspecified time in the past, so, how many times . . . ever. But if you’re talking about -this- class, which supposedly meets at particular times on particular days for a limited amount of time, you would probably just go with the regular past tense, as in, “how many times did you come to this class?”

Whew. Sorry so verbose.

We can use both the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous to speak about situations that started in the past and are still continuing and also about situations that have just finished and affect the present. The difference between the two tenses in both these situations is one of focus.

If we say:

How long have you been coming to this class?. I have been coming to class all day/week/ in my whole life. (present perfect continuous)
Here, we are focusing on the action of coming itself, e.g. verb thinking of it as an extended activity that may not have finished yet.

If we say:

How long have you come to his class?. I have come to his class this morning/ since morning.(present perfect simple)
Here, we are focusing on the idea had been completed.

Another difference is that we use the present perfect continuous to speak about more temporary situations and actions, and the present perfect simple to speak about more permanent situations and actions.
The television has been playing up lately.
That television has never worked, as far as I can remember.