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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)


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.

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


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Montri

Yes, you should use the one that fits better with the situation and with what you want to say.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Montri

Both of them can be more natural in some situations and not so natural in others. If you explain the situation you have in mind a little, I can try to help you understand the differences between the two.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Montri

Both could work.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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
The LearnEnglish Team

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.