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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. Could you please help me?
Is the following sentence correct using the past continuous? Can we use the past continuous to express repeated actions or a habit in the past?
- He was going to the club every day when he was on holiday.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

For something which was a normal activity like this we generally use a simple form:

He went to the club...



The LearnEnglish Team

" - for something happening before and after another action:"
Why happening and not happens"

What is the difference for the following sentense?
-Throwing shade isn't going to make you shine.
-Throwing shade doesn't make you shine.

Thank you.

Hi, i made up this sentence : i was wondering if you were gonna come over tonight. Is It right?. ciao thanks in Advance.

Hi rosario70,
Yes, that sentence is fine. It's quite informal and would be used when talking to a friend.
The LearnEnglish Team

What is the difference between the two following sentences?
"Someone next door had been playing heavy metal music all night long. I
didn’t get a wink of sleep."
"Someone next door was playing heavy metal music all night long. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.
Thank you

Is it proper to use the past simple tense in place of the past continuous tense in sentences such as the following using "when" when one action in taking place at the same time as another action? For example:

- I'm sorry if I was rude to you earlier. I was in a bad mood when I cooked/was cooking dinner.

- I found the event mostly boring, but I did have a lot of fun when we played/were playing that game.

- I asked him that when we spoke/were speaking earlier today,

- You intermittently snored when you slept/were sleeping last night.

- I tend to get stressed when I study/am studying for an exam.

- I usually stay up late watching TV when my wife sleeps/is sleeping. (In this sentence the intended meaning is not that I stay up late any time my wife sleeps, but that she happens to sleep at that time.)

On one hand it seems that using the past simple with "when" should be just fine since one of the definitions for "when" is "while," which would seem to fit fine in the sentences above, and yet in some cases "when" doesn't sound quite right. I'm not quite sure why though. Is it because "when" can have other meanings that create ambiguity? I know that the past continuous tense is encouraged when one event interrupts another event, but that's not really the case in these examples.

Along similar lines, can the past simple tense be used in sentences such as the following?

- I thought he played/was playing very well.

- I liked the dress you wore/were wearing last night.

- I was impressed with how he ran/was running his campaign.

Let's assume in all cases that I'm trying to communicate that the first verb (thought, liked, impressed) occurred during the same time that the second verb (played, wore, ran) occurred, not after. In other words, I thought to myself during the game that he was playing well. What is the difference between the past simple and past continuous tenses in these contexts? Does the past simple tense focus on the event as a whole while the past continuous tense focuses on an action that was occurring at a particular moment (albeit with roughly the same meaning)?

Thank you.

Hello Oliver25,

It is perfectly fine to use either the past progressive or the past simple after 'when', but there is a difference in meaning. The progressive suggests the other action took place during the first (after it started and before it finished), while the simple form suggests the action took place at the same time. For example:

I cooked the meal when/while she was taking a bath. [she was in the bath when I did the cooking]


I cooked the meal when she took a bath. [her taking the bath was the signal for me to start cooking]


In many contexts, such as some of yours, the distinction is minimal, but I think the principle holds nevertheless.


With regard to your second question, the progressive form implies an incomplete action:

I thought he played well last night (the whole match).


I thought he was playing well last night (in the part I saw / up to a certain point / but then...)


Certain contexts make the distinction all but meaningless, such as your second example, where a time reference ( were wearing at 7.00) would be needed for the distinction to be clear.



The LearnEnglish Team

good day.
You won't be making much money in this new job.
you won't make much money in this new job
why is the second one wrong? there isn't a specific time so I don't know why we have to use the future continues.