Progressive/Continuous Tenses


Notes on Progressive/Continuous Tenses Video

watch the Progressive/Continuous video

  • The be -ing form has multiple uses; the video only covers the first two (which are probably the most commonly used):
    • a current unfinished action (one that started earlier but hasn't finished yet) - PROGRESSIVE
    • an ongoing (unfinished) circumstance - CONTINUOUS
    • a definite future plan (usually involving other people)
    • a change (including some normally-stative verbs)
    • an excessive habit (possibly annoying or humorous), often that is characteristic of the subject
  • Using continuous/progressive vs using simple often depends on the context.  In describing the same course of events, whether a particular action seems longer or shorter, temporary or permanent, is relative to the scope of the context.
  • Beyond being verbs that are occurring in the moment, progressive tenses are often used in more specific ways:
    • past progressive: a longer action to be interrupted by a shorter one
    • past progressive: constructing the scene of a story
    • future progressive: something than happens in the normal course of events (at which point there may be a simultaneous, possibly proposed, action)
  • Contracted Form – usually auxiliary verb with preceding subject
    • Alternately, aux verb with following ‘not’
    • For positive short answers, don’t use contractions
  • Spelling:
    • drop final -e before adding -ing
    • for most single-syllable words beginning and ending with a consonant, double the last consonant before adding -ing
    • change the -ie at the end of words to -y before adding -ing
  • Stative Verbs are words that are never used with the Progressive/Continuous tenses.  By Stative Verbs, we mean certain definitions of these words, as one word might have some definitions that are stative and others that are not.  For example, 'dream' pertaining to life-long hope and ultimate goal would be stative ("She dreams of becoming a world-class ballerina."), but dream pertaining to visions during the night is not stative ("He keeps tossing and turning; he must be dreaming about something strange.")
  • In general, verbs that are dynamic do not qualify as stative verbs, at least for that context.  For example, 'think' is stative when it pertains to an opinion or viewpoint ("I think tigers are beautiful creatures.") but not when it means 'consider', as it might be growing or changing ("I'm thinking about attending that concert tonight.")
  • We often use a continuous verb and a simple verb together in the same sentence, in which the continuous is the longer of the two actions and the simple is the quicker.  We tend to use either a conjunction like 'while' or 'as' before the continuous verb or a conjunction like 'when', 'until' before the simple verb.
  • Performative verbs are not used for progressive/continuous tenses.  Performative verbs are verbs that don't merely describe the action, but actually perform it as they are said or read.  For example, in saying "I apologize for my earlier actions", you accomplish the apology itself.  You would not say "I am apologizing for my earlier actions."
  • Since the progressive/continuous usage is dependent upon the context, the context is often stated in the sentence (or in a nearby sentence).  This is often done through prepositional phrases of limited time periods ('during the hurricane').  However, placing a preposition before the verb string ('while you were fixing the sink') can turn it into a prepositional phrase that sets the context for another verb.
  • Progressive/Continuous forms and usage remain even when combined with the Perfect aspect (here, to be takes the form 'been') or the Passive voice (here, to be takes the form 'being', and the main verb in V3).


Related Printouts

  • a grouped list of Stative Verbs (letter) (A4)


What's Next in the Series

Present Perfect Progressive

How to combine the usage and form of perfect tenses and perfect tenses, particularly in the present time (although it can apply to past and future as well).

Present Continuous for Future Usage

We can use this form to demonstrate what we are currently planning or expecting for the future. (or as a future time-marker)

tensesErik Arndt