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, 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?"

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

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.

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

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?

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

Hi Are these sentences correct? 1. I have been working all day. 2. I have been working today. 3. I have worked today. I could use some help. Thanks

Hello Marua,

All of those sentences are grammatically correct. Which is appropriate will depend upon the context.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again and thank you very much for the answer. Regarding present perfect continuous, in the next dialogue, can I use 'today' and 'all day' with no difference in meaning? 'I'm exhausted. Have you been working hard today/all day?' Both of them are appropriate? Thanks.

Hi Marua,

You can use both 'all day' and 'today' but there is a difference in meaning. 'Today' is more general and does not tell us how long the activity took. 'All day' tells us that it was an activity which lasted the whole day.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teachers, Is that following sentence is correct; I am Kim Kiyani living in two blocks away from the club . I think the original sentence should be like this ; I am Kim Kiyani ,and I am living in two blocks away from the club . If the first sentence is correct , what is the rule behind that ? it is possible to use the same structure for a sentence like this ; I have arrived recently, (I have )found the apartment keys beneath the flower pot

Hello bany,

The first sentence is not a natural sentence. The reason is that the participle here acts as a reduced relative clause identifying which thing we are talking about. For example, we might say the following:

That is the dog living in the flat next to mine.

The participle phrase 'living in...' tells us which dog we mean: not any dog but a specific dog (the one which lives next to us).

 

Your sentence is illogical because you have already given a name which identifies you. It would make sense only if there were two people callled Kim Kiyani and you needed to identify which one you were. The sentence would be fine without a name:

I am the guy living in two blocks away from the club.

The context here would be that the listener knows about someone who lives two blocks away - perhaps you have spoken on the phone and mentioned it - and so this information can be used to identify which guy you are.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"Mother will be cooking the dinner when we get home." Is it incorrect to say in the sentence above, instead of "we get home", we will get home?
Hi everyone! Which sentence is correct: 1. I enjoy my English course 2. I'm enjoying my English course Thanks

Hi Ilariuccia,

Both sentences are possible. The first sentence is an example of the present simple and describes a general feeling about the course - the speaker likes it. The second sentence is an example of the present continuous and describes the speaker's feeling at a particular moment. It is possible (if unlikely) that the speaker in the second sentence does not like the course overall but is enjoying it at that particular moment.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good day, I want to ask you guys which is better: A. What are doing when the accident occured? B. What were you doing when the accident occured? Can you ask someone in both ways and which is better? Thx

Hello Aoll212,

A is not correct -- it lacks a subject ('you') and the present tense ('are') is incongruent with the past tense ('occurred'). B, however, is correct. Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Is the following sentence correct? Tina, and not her parents, is organizing the party.

Hi naghmairam,

Yes, that sentence looks fine to me.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, is "I told you he was coming" the same as "I told you that he would come"? If they are both correct: Is one more polite or more frequently used than the other? How is this grammar form called? Where can I find more about it? Thank you in advance. W.B.

Hello Wilhem_Busch,

Both are examples of reported speech. To see the difference in meaning, consider the direct speech for each sentence:

"He is coming."

"He will come."

The first indicates more certainty: either he is already on his way or else the speaker is certain of what he or she says.

The second is a promise, a prediction or a guess.

I wouldn't say either is more polite or more frequent. They simply express slightly different perspectives on the part of the speaker.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

If someone asked me "Where are you going on your next holiday?" can i say "I'm going to Portugal on next holiday.or I'll going to Portugal on next holiday.or I will be going to portugal next holiday.

Hello Ice,

You can use many forms, depending on the meaning you wish to convey. For example, all of the following are possible:

I'm going to Portugal for my next holiday.

I'm going to go to Portugal for my next holiday.

I'll be going to Portugal for my next holiday.

I'll go to Portugal for my next holiday.

Which of these is most appropriate depends on the context. You can see how these forms are used on our page on future forms.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir I went through your getting started page and grammar section carefully but still I am not very sure of present perfect tenses. Would you help me to clear my doubts. For e.g. It has rained. The road is wet. This means it is not rainning now. It has been rainning for two hours. It has rained for two hours.Both these mean it is raining now or it is not raining now. Are all these correct or only some. Please clarify. Regards Andrew international

Hello andrew international,

We have a page in our Quick Grammar that covers just this topic. The video on Flathunting Scene 2 Language Focus also discusses the present perfect general. Please take a look at those resources and then if it's still unclear, you're welcome to ask us again on one of those pages.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, I have a doubt in perfect tense. I want to know the difference between " I have been to german" and "I have gone to german". Usually we use ing form for perfect continuos but in some books or newspaper they are using ed form in perfect continuos, for eg "I have been fascinated", "gandhiji had been assassinated". Why we are using ed form in perfect continuos? What's the reason?

Hello Nithya,

I think there are a few different issues at play here. First of all, 'She has been to Germany' and 'She has gone to Germany' are both present perfect simple (not continuous) forms. Using 'been' implies that she went to Germany and has already returned; using 'gone' implies that she may not yet have returned. 

The other forms you mention are not continuous forms, either. In the case of 'fascinated', there it is an adjective, whereas in the phrase about Gandhi-ji, it is the past participle (third form) that is part of a passive verb. Follow the links I've added to see more about that grammar, and if you'd like to understand the difference between simple and continuous forms, our Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous page explains the difference between those two forms.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir :) I just wanna ask which sentence is correct When I was in secondary school , I was working in a charity organization Or When I was in secondary school, I had been working in charity organization I just want you to clarify this point, because now I think both past continuous and past perfect continuous give the same meaning Thanks in advance :)

Hello Moka 18,

Both sentences are possible, but which is appropriate will depend upon the context and the speaker's intention. The second sentence would require some other point of reference, such as how long the person had been working.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Kirk i have a doubt please clear it. i have doing this since last 20 minutes. i have been doing this last for 20 minutes. which one is correct.

Hello Afia,

The second one, with a slight change, is the correct one: 'I have been doing this for the last 20 minutes'. 'for' is followed by a period of time ('the last 20 minutes'). You might find our how long page useful.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I'd like to know if it is possible to say in a phone conversation: Bye, my family is arraving in this moment, I will speak you soon! I mean, I'd like to know if it is right "my family's arriving", thx for your help.

Hello Ilhya,

Yes, you can use the present continuous like that. 'just now' can also be useful in a context like this: 'My family's arriving just now, so I've got to go (or 'so I'll speak to you later'). You can also say 'My family's just arrived' (using the present perfect) – which form you use really depends on how you view the event.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Could you explain me the difference between 'you think that' and 'you're thinking that', 'you want' and 'you're wanting', please? '...you’re thinking that your life will be pretty easy..' vs 'you think that your life will be pretty easy'. '..you're wanting to improve your vocabulary...' vs 'you want to improve your vocabulary'. Thanks in advance
Hello Elka0507, Generally, for opinions, knowledge and emotions we use simple forms, so 'you think...' would be the standard form. However, if the speaker wants to emphasise that the other person's opinions are not fixed and are temporary then 'You're thinking...' is possible. It suggests 'at the moment', as opposed to 'always'. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear Peter M, Thank you so much for the explanation! You really cleared it for me. Does the sentence 'You're wanting to improve your vocabulary' imply the 'inconstancy' of the student in this case (opinions are not fixed and are temporary)? Or does it simply convey his or her wish at the moment (the way it goes with active verbs)? I also came across the phrases "I've been liking her since my school days' and 'I've been loving you too long' in the Internet. Are they also acceptable? Sincerely yours, Elena
Hello Elena, These are all non-standard uses, I would say, designed to create a certain impression. McDonald's slogan 'I'm loving it' is similar. Of the three, the first one suggests, as you say, a wish at the moment. It implies something like 'you're in need of' or 'you're trying to' as much as 'you desire to', I would say. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Hello when you say continuous forms are used to talk about background info, I need to know what is meant by the term background information

Hello Lamastry,

When we say that the continuous aspect is used to talk about background information, we're referring to actions that are happening but which are not the most salient action mentioned in a sentence. For example, in 'I was having lunch when the postman knocked on the door', the most salient action is the postman knocking on the door. The background action is 'I was eating lunch'. The sentence is more about the postman than about my lunch – my lunch is in the background.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, dear friends! Please, help me with choosing the right answer. I got/was getting up at six o'clock every morning last week. When we were on holiday, we went / were going to the cafe almost every day. Danise practised/were practising the song every day until she could sing it perfectly.I did/was doing my homework as soon as I got home from school. Thank you!

Hello Inna Klepinina,

I'm afraid we don't provide help with these kinds of test or homework exercises on LearnEnglish. These are for you to do! We will help you to understand the material on our site, or with more general questions about the language, however.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Why are the following sentences used with the present continous? I have to be going now. Shouldn't this be "I have to go now"? You don't need to be making yourself sick. Also, this should be "you don't need to make yourself sick".

Hello Dwishiren,

Both forms are correct here, and there is no difference in use. You could look at the continuous form as describing something which is in progress already and the simple as something which refers to a possible future action, but I think this is unnecessary; both are used interchangeably in modern English.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! Is it possible to use Continuous and Simple in the same sentence? As one of the verbs is a non-continuous verb.)))e.g. "What ecosystems of educational software exist and are successfully functioning at the present?"))) If there are any mistakes in the mentioned example, I`d be very pleased if you corrected them.

Hello Anna.Bu,

Yes, it's quite common to use both forms in the same sentence. Your sentence is grammatically correct, though what exactly 'ecosystems of software' means isn't clear to me - but that's probably down to my own ignorance!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I would like to know which sentences is correct, 1. Could the floods have been prevented in the first place? 2. Could the floods be prevented in the first place? And please explain to me...I'm confusing about the "have been" things Thx ...

Hello Danielyong96,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. The first talks about the past: the floods have already happened and the speaker is thinking about what might have been possible. The second sentence talks about the present or future: the floods have not happened and the speaker is thinking about possible courses of action.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team