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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)


Hi Nevı,

Yes, exactly :)


The LearnEnglish Team

How have you been? Or how are you? In what situation do we use "how have you been"?


Hello Gendeng,

'you have been' is the present perfect and 'are' is the present simple. In this case, the present perfect refers to a period of time beginning at some point in the past up until now. When this period began may be clear from the context, or it may be that the speaker asks it casually. Much of time, it's as if the question were 'How have you been lately?' or 'How have you been since I last saw you?'

The present simple form generally refers more to the present and less to the recent past.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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.