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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 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.

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

is this tense correct? : Dany is standing on the table.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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!

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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.

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.



The LearnEnglish Team


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?"