You are here

Continuous aspect

Level: intermediate

We use continuous aspect:

  • for something happening before and after a specific time:

He's getting on the train. (before and after the moment of speaking)
It was a quarter past ten. We were watching the news on television.

  • for something happening before and after another action:

Mother will be cooking the dinner when we get home.
We were waiting for the bus when it started to rain.

  • for something continuing for some time:

Everybody will be waiting for us.
They had been working hard all day.

  • for something happening again and again:

They've been doing that every day this week.
The children were always shouting.
He will be practising the piano every night.

  • for something temporary:

We are renting an apartment until our house is ready.
He was working in a garage during the vacation.

  • for something new:

We have moved from Birmingham. We're living in Manchester now.
He had left university and was working in his father's business.

  • to describe something changing or developing:

Everything has been getting more difficult.
He was growing more bad-tempered every day. 

Continuous aspect 1


Continuous aspect 2


We can use continuous aspect:

How long have you been sitting there?
I don't know how long she had been learning Spanish.

Your friends will be looking for you.
They might be playing tennis.

You should have been driving more carefully.
Soon we will have been living here for 25 years.

Continuous aspect 3


Continuous aspect 4


We do not normally use the continuous aspect with stative verbs. We use the simple instead:

I don't understand you. (NOT am not understanding)
When I got home, I really needed a shower. (NOT was needing)
I've always liked John. (NOT been liking)


Hello everybody. When someone says 'how are you', the response is 'I have been very well' or 'I'm very well'?

Hello again Plokonyo,

There are many ways to respond, but in general, the second one is better.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

I had been watching TV all day( i mean
yesterday) or I was watching TV all day.
In grammar book "Oxford Practice Grammar" i saw example "We were working all afternoon"( why there isn't had been working?) I mean, that there is duration like all afternoon or all day.

Hello Hatchaitchi88,

The forms you are asking about here are past continuous (was watching/were working) and past perfect continuous (had been watching/had been working). Duration is not an issue in choosing between these.


We use the past perfect when we have two past time references and want to emphasises that (1) one action preceded the other and (2) the earlier action had an influence on the later action in some way.


Your examples are isolated without any context, so there is no reason to use the past perfect. If there were a context including a second past action then the past perfect might be possible, but that would depend on the two actions and their relationship.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, teachers
Could you please tell me the differences among the four sentences:
1. My car wouldn't start this morning, so I was late.
2. My car wasn't starting this morning, so I was late
3. My car didn't start this morning ,so I was late.
4. My car hadn't started this morning, so I was late.

I really appreciate your clarification.
Best Wish

Hello Sokhom,

We sometimes talk about machines as if they were people and have a will of their own. This is the use of wouldn't start in the first sentence; it has a similar meaning to refused to start.

The third sentence describes two actions in the past which form a sequence.

The action of not starting is a single completed action, so there is no reason to use the continuous form (the second sentence) here. The action is not repeated or interrupted.

The fourth sentence is inconsistent as 'this morning' has a present time reference, while the past perfect would indicate a past time reference. You could use the past perfect if you were looking back from a later date and telling the story: My car hadn't started so I was late that morning and my boss was angry.



The LearnEnglish Team

The tip is really enormous. Thanks.

They heard the announcement that the mayor was resigning. - Why is the continuous tense used here?

Many thanks.

Hello IsabelTim_123,

The past continuous and past simple are often used together in this way. The past simple refers to a past finished event (it only takes a short time to hear an announcement) and the past continuous is used to speak about the situation in progress at the time -- English grammars often refer to this as the 'background'. 

Without the context, it's not completely clear if the mayor had already resigned or not, but in general I'd understand that she had not resigned yet. If the mayor had already resigned, the speaker would probably have said 'had resigned' or 'resigned'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

The bank will be starting a recruitment drive if it receives head office approval

Is 'will start' possible here?

She always cycled to work unless it was raining

Is 'it rained' possible here?

Thanks in advance