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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)


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,


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

Hello LubNko525,

Yes, those are both possible, though whether they'd be better or not depends on the context.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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.



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.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

For something which was a normal activity like this we generally use a simple form:

He went to the club...



The LearnEnglish Team

" - 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


The LearnEnglish Team