Grammar

Progressive Tense: Correct Usage

The progressive tense defines the ongoing action by adding -ing to the verb (participle) and using “verb to be”...

Matthew Hamel Written by Matthew Hamel · 3 min read >
progressive tense

The progressive tense defines the ongoing action by adding -ing to the verb (participle) and using “verb to be” before the main verb. In English grammar, the progressive tense is often interchangeably used as continuous tense. However, one must know the difference. 

The progressive tense is used for the verbs in which actions are ongoing when you look at a bigger picture or a larger time scale. On the other hand, the continuous tense is used for actions happening temporarily that are unfinished.

Let’s consider an example:

Natalia was studying mathematics.

Now, if we consider it as past continuous tense, it means Natalia was studying mathematics some time ago as a subject.

In the case of progressive tense, it means Natalia was studying mathematics as she is doing a degree course, specialization, etc.

Often the sentence itself clears that kind of tense is used in the sentence. one is free to use any of the tenses as their formation is similar. However, the meaning is different.

Consider these two examples:

Natalia was studying mathematics from SN University.- past progressive tense

Natalia was studying mathematics in her room.- past continuous tense.

Now, as it is clear that what is progressive tense, let’s move to its types and formation.

Some examples of progressive tense

1) I was working today. The base verb is ‘to work’

2) I had been writing all day. The base verb is ‘to write’

3) You are describing it correctly. The base verb is ‘to describe’

4) You have been learning English in the right way. The base verb is ‘to learn’

5) You will be running in the race today. The base verb is ‘to run’

6) We will have been meeting that day for the second time. The base verb is “to meet”

Types of progressive tense

Basically, there are six major types of progressive tenses- continuous and perfect continuous forms of three different tenses.

1st – What is past progressive tense with example?

The past progressive tense shows an action that was continuing to a point of time in the past.

Formation of past progressive

To form these progressive tenses, one needs to add “was or were + present participle.”

Example

I was living in Paris. Here, the present participle of the verb ‘to live’ is used after the “to be” verb “was.”

I was thinking about this.

2nd – What is past perfect progressive tense?

The past perfect progressive tense indicates an action that was started before a certain point of time and continued until the point arrived.

Formation of past perfect progressive

To form these progressive tenses, one needs to add “had been + present participle.”

Examples of past perfect progressive tense

I had been living in Paris. Here, the base verb is ‘to live’ which is used after the “to be” verb had been

I had been working my whole life to get this

3rd – What is the present progressive tense?

The present progressive tense indicates an action that is going on in the present.

Formation of present progressive tense

To form present progressive tense, one needs to add “is or are + present participle.” Therefore, the present progressive has two auxiliary verbs.

Usage of present progressive auxiliary verbs:

is- singular

are- singular

Examples of present progressive tense

We are living in Paris. Here, the present progressive uses the base verb is ‘to live’ used with the “to be” verb “are.”

He is showing fast progress.

4th – What is present perfect progressive tense?

The present perfect progressive tense indicates an action that was started on a certain point is past and continued until the present moment.

Formation of Present Perfect Progressive

To form these progressive tenses, one needs to add “have been or has been + present participle.”

Examples of present perfect progressive

He has been living in Paris for years.

We have been living in Paris for years.

In both examples, the base verb is ‘to live.’ In the first case, it used with “to be” verb “had been” and in the second example, it is used with the “to be” verb “have been”

He has been waiting for you.

We have been waiting for you

5th – What is future progressive?

The future progressive tenses indicate actions that will be going on at a point of time in the future.

Formation of future progressive

To form these progressive tenses, one needs to add “will be + present participle.”

Examples of future progressive tenses

We will be living in Paris next year. In this case, the progressive verb living has the base ‘to live’ which is used before “will be.”

I will be coming on another day for sure.

6th – What is future perfect progressive tense?

The future perfect progressive tense denotes an action that will be going on over a period of time and the action will end in the future.

Formation of future perfect progressive

To form these progressive tenses, one needs to add “will have been + present participle.”

Examples of future perfect progressive tenses

We will have been living in Paris for twenty years next month. Here, again, the progressive verb is living which is used after “will have been.”

We will have been working together for five years after this year gets completed.

For further information, take a look at a simple guide on verb tenses.

Written by Matthew Hamel
Matt has spent over a decade in international and ESL education both as a teacher and instructional designer. In addition to classroom and online teaching experience, Matt has written hundreds of lessons and articles about English with an emphasis on ESL learners. Profile