Column: On to the perfect progressive


In the last column we talked about forming perfect aspects, specifically about using the past perfect verb form to describe actions which occurred before other actions. This week, we’re going to learn about the progressive aspect.

Had I enough space, I would include here a longer digression about the difference between a verb’s “aspect” and a verb’s “tense.” That not being the case, we’ll leave it simply at this: A verb’s aspect denotes whether the action has been completed or is ongoing. A verb’s tense denotes when in time it takes place (past, present, future).

And so we arrive at the progressive aspect – used to denote a temporary action or state that is ongoing in the verb’s tense.

The progressive aspect comes in four forms: past, perfect, future and conditional. We haven’t discussed a verb’s mood yet, so we won’t be talking about the conditional form for now. The progressive is formed by combining the appropriate tense of the verb “to be” with the present participle of the main verb. The present participle, for most verbs, is formed by adding “-ing” to the end of the base verb (i.e. running, walking, reading, jumping).

The present progressive is used for ongoing actions happening right now. For example: I am writing this column. You are reading this column. You get the picture.

The past progressive is formed with “was” or “were,” and is used to denote an action that was ongoing at that time you’re discussing it. For example: At 2 a.m. last night, I was sleeping. The sun was rising at dawn.

The future progressive gets two helping verbs: “will” and “be.” We use it to denote actions or states that will be ongoing in the future. Example: At this time next week, I will be writing another column. Some people wonder who will be running for president in 2016.

The notable exception to many of these rules is stative verbs – verbs like “to be, “to like” or “to possess” – which more or less default to the simple aspect in ongoing situations (ex. “I am cold” rather than “I am being cold.”)

That, in a nutshell, is the progressive tense. We’re ready now for the perfect progressive. Are you excited yet?

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