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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 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,
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,
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?
'’re thinking that your life will be pretty easy..' vs 'you think that your life will be pretty easy'.
''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,

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,


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,

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,
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!