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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Hello everyone, Is this correct to say: "While we were waiting we were doing crosswords" or "While we were waiting we did crosswords" Thank you in advance!

Hello Natasa Tanasa,

Both forms are possible here; it's really a question of the broader context and the speaker's intention.

The simple form (did) would be used if you wanted to suggest that the crosswords were finished, while the continuous form does not imply this (but does not preclude it either). Other than that difference it depends what you want to emphasise: the activity (it was long and boring, for example) or the result (we finished four crosswords!).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team. Could you tell me the difference between the past simple and the past continuous in the following sentence? I think "past simple" is wrong here. 1- I didn't believe that most famous people were doing hard jobs all their childhood. 2- I didn't believe that most famous people did hard jobs all their childhood. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think both forms are possible here and there is very little difference in meaning. The continuous form emphasises that the state or situation is temporary and I think it sounds a little better, but the reference to childhood already makes this point clear so I think either form is possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear team, the matter has already been brought to the attention of the parents. Is the position of "already" right? Or should it go after been? Thanks a lot
Hi great team, I am confused about the'-ing clause' For instance, when I say 1)''I see him sitting on the sofa.'' A website says (-sitting on the sofa) is 'a -ing clause'. But I learnt that it is a participle clause. Which one is true? ,teacher. Could you please explain difference to me? After asking a question, I want to thank all our helpful teachers and our moderator for helping us to learn English.I am very grateful to have that opportunity.

Hi Nevı,

Both are true! There are two types of participle clauses:

  1. Present participle clauses (using the -ing verb form)
  2. Past participle clauses (using the -ed verb form).

Your example is the first type. You can read more about participle clauses on this page. I hope it helps!

We're happy to read your kind comments :) Thank you for visiting our site.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for page link teacher. So I understand that '-ing' clause involve gerund clauses and present participle clauses. For example, -I like walking my dog. walking my dog is -ing ( gerund) clause. -I see him sitting on the sofa. sitting on the sofa is -ing(participle) clause. Teacher,Do I understand correctly? Thanks a lot.
Thanks a lot teacher, I know I asked 2 questions. But I really want to learn that topic well and that is my last question probably :). While I was going over information about '- ing clauses' , I just saw one site says "A clause is a group of words which contains a verb."(Collins Dict.) Other site says(Longman dict) "Group of words that contains a subject and a verb." Which one is true, teacher? Could you please explain me why? Best wishes!

Hi Nevı,

No worries :) Both are true, actually. A clause always has a verb in it, and a verb has a subject. But, the subject isn't always stated in the clause, e.g.: 

  • Waiting for Ellie, I made some tea. ('Waiting for Ellie' = present participle clause; subject is not stated)
  • While I was waiting for Ellie, I made some tea. ('While I was waiting for Ellie' = clause with subject and verb)

The first example is a type of clause called a non-finite clause (i.e. a clause with a verb in the infinitive, participle or gerund form). With non-finite clauses, the subject is often not stated.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, teacher. I learnt lots of things from your answers . And I want to sum up your last massage to ask you If I understand correctly; Non-finite clauses(gerund, participle infinitive and - to infinitive clauses usually has no stated subject. For instance ; -I let him eat ice cream. (eat ice cream is infinitive clause and subject is not stated.Because subject is obviously him) -I want to play football. (to play football is -to infinitive clause and subject is not stated. Because subject is obviously me) Best wishes, teacher Jonathan.I am very grateful.
How have you been? Or how are you? In what situation do we use "how have you been"? thanks

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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everybody. When someone says 'how are you', the response is 'I have been very well' or 'I'm very well'?
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.

 

Peter

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

They heard the announcement that the mayor was resigning. - Why is the continuous tense used here? Many thanks.

Hello IsabelTim_123,

The past continuous and past simple are often used together in this way. The past simple refers to a past finished event (it only takes a short time to hear an announcement) and the past continuous is used to speak about the situation in progress at the time -- English grammars often refer to this as the 'background'. 

Without the context, it's not completely clear if the mayor had already resigned or not, but in general I'd understand that she had not resigned yet. If the mayor had already resigned, the speaker would probably have said 'had resigned' or 'resigned'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

The bank will be starting a recruitment drive if it receives head office approval Is 'will start' possible here? She always cycled to work unless it was raining Is 'it rained' possible here? Thanks in advance
Q: You look tired. A: Yes, I was cycling from ten this morning until five o’clock. What is it different from "I cycled..."? Thanks English Team.

Hello Lucas_xpp,

It's really a question of emphasis. Both forms are possible here.

 

The simple form (cycled) emphasises the action in its entirety. You might use this if you want to focus on your achievement - how far you cycled.

 

The continuous form (was cycling) emphasises the activity. You might use this if you want to focus on the duration of the activity, or how demanding it was.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? Is the following sentence correct using the past continuous? Can we use the past continuous to express repeated actions or a habit in the past? - He was going to the club every day when he was on holiday. Thank you.
" - for something happening before and after another action:" Why happening and not happens"

Hello InmaLD

That is a reduced relative clause. The full form is 'for something that happens before and after another action'. Sometimes we reduce relative clauses such as this one using an '-ing' form.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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.
Hi, i made up this sentence : i was wondering if you were gonna come over tonight. Is It right?. ciao thanks in Advance.
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
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

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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!

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

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

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