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

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Continuous aspect 2

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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

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Continuous aspect 4

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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)

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Submitted by radovan1972 on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 21:11

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Hi. Dear BC team. In some grammar books and coursebooks, the verb "enjoy" is said to be a state verb, not forming continuous tenses. I personaly disagree. I think it is very common to say "I am enjoying the party." and things like that. So I usually tell people to cross "enjoy" out. Would you agree? There are some other verbs which are said to be state verbs, i.e. "see, hear, think, love, like, look". However, I hear sentences like "I can't believe what I am seeing., , What we are seeing here ..... , They aren't looking very happy., I am loving it., I am liking it., I am thinking you ain't no taxi driver. I am hearing ....." etc. more and more often, so I believe, that rule is becoming quite obsolete. What do you think? Thanks for your comments. Radovan
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 07/06/2018 - 07:38

In reply to by radovan1972

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Hi Radovan,

I wouldn't say that the distinction is disappearing but there are, as you say, many verbs which can be used as both state verbs and dynamic verbs. The meaning is often different in each use, however. For example, the verb have can be used as a dynamic verb in phrases like I'm having breakfast or We're having a meeting. However, the meaning is not possession here but rather eating and holding, respectively.

Languages are flexible and English is no different. Words become used in new ways and old uses can disappear or change. I think you are quite right to assess the accuracy of claimed rules in the light of how the language is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Uliana. on Thu, 26/04/2018 - 18:41

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Hello, Could you please tell me which of these two sentences is correct: "I will sit in this room for one more hour" or "I will have been sitting in this room for one more hour?"
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 27/04/2018 - 07:18

In reply to by Uliana.

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Hello Ulianan,

Both sentences are grammatically possible and so which is correct will depend upon the particular context in which it is used.

The first sentence (will sit) is a prediction about the future from the point of view of the present. The second (will have been sitting) is a description of the situation looking back from a point in the future; it carries the sense of by that time...

You can read more about the second example on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Marua on Wed, 21/03/2018 - 07:24

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Hi. I've got one question. Can we use both aspects of the verb 'stand' in this phrase? He stood/was standing outside the door for a moment, trying to understand what he had seen. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 21/03/2018 - 11:56

In reply to by Marua

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Hi Marua,

For most cases, the past simple form is the best one to use here. The continuous one could be possible in some specific situation, e.g. as the answer to a question regarding why he was there, but in general the simple form is more likely.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Or Yahalom on Thu, 04/01/2018 - 08:03

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Hello, As an example of "something continuing before and after another action", you gave the following sentence: Mother will be cooking the dinner when we get home. Can you explain please which action took place *before* in this example?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 06:14

In reply to by Or Yahalom

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Hello Or Yahalom,

In this example Mother will be in the middle of cooking when we get home (remember, 'get' here means the same as 'arrive'). The sequence is this:

1. Mother starts cooking

2. We get home

3. Mother finishes cooking (and we are already at home when this happens).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team