Continuous aspect

Learn about continuous verb forms and do some exercises to practise using them.

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

Matching_MTYzMzg=

Continuous aspect 2

GapFillTyping_MTYzMzk=

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

Matching_MTYzNDA=

Continuous aspect 4

GapFillTyping_MTYzNDE=

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)

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Hello Montri

In this pair of sentences, 'isn't going to make' is more about the future and 'doesn't' is speaking more in general, i.e. about something that is always true. The first form is explained on Talking about the future and the other one on the Present simple page.

All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rosario70 on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 18:43

Permalink
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. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 18/03/2019 - 19:28

Permalink
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
Hello Ahmed Imam The first uses the past perfect continuous tense and the second uses the past continuous tense. Both appear to be expressing the context for the second sentence (about not sleeping). This is a typical use of both tenses. The past perfect form in the first sentences makes it clear that the music began before the not sleeping; we can surmise this from the second sentence as well, but the verb tense in itself doesn't emphasise it as much as in the first one. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Oliver25 on Fri, 25/01/2019 - 01:38

Permalink
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 (...you were wearing at 7.00) would be needed for the distinction to be clear.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by andreus1999 on Mon, 26/11/2018 - 22:25

Permalink
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.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 27/11/2018 - 05:46

In reply to by andreus1999

Permalink

Hello andreus1999,

The second sentence is not wrong; both forms can be used here.

There is not a great change in meaning in this context but there is a difference in emphasis. The continuous form (won't be making) describes the situation that the person wil be in while doing the job. The simple form (won't make) focuses on the result of doing the job.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdel El on Thu, 28/06/2018 - 14:47

Permalink
hello is this tense correct? : Dany is standing on the table.
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 28/06/2018 - 15:45

In reply to by Abdel El

Permalink

Hell Abdel El,

The verb in your sentence is correctly formed and describes what Dany is doing right now. I assume that it is correctly used, but of course I can't say that for sure without knowing what the context is and what you want to say.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by skywalker1 on Wed, 27/06/2018 - 15:12

Permalink
Hello! Why Present Continuous is used in the examples: "I hate the way he is always criticising me"; "What time is he arriving next Friday?". Thanks a lot!
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 27/06/2018 - 16:56

In reply to by skywalker1

Permalink

Hi skywalker1,

The present continuous can be used to express annoyance. When we use it this way, we often also use the word 'always' -- this is the way it is used in the first sentence you ask about.

In the second sentence, the present continuous is used to speak about a future plan that has already been arranged. For more on this use, please see our Future plans and Talking about the future pages.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

Permalink
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
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 07/06/2018 - 07:38

In reply to by radovan1972

Permalink

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

Permalink
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?"
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 27/04/2018 - 07:18

In reply to by Uliana.

Permalink

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

Permalink
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.
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 21/03/2018 - 11:56

In reply to by Marua

Permalink

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

Permalink
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?
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 06:14

In reply to by Or Yahalom

Permalink

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