Opinion: Perfectly progressive


It’s time to learn about the perfect progressive verb form. Are you excited? I know you are.

If you recall, the perfect aspect is used to denote an action which is complete at the time of reference. For example: “We had already eaten dinner before you called.” Both actions occurred in the past, but the speaker’s eating occurred more in the past because it was already completed when the call occurred.

The progressive aspect is used to denote temporary actions or states which are ongoing at the time of reference. For example: “Snow was falling while I wrote this column.” The snowfall began prior to the time of reference and continued at least through the time of reference.

Now, we can combine the perfect and progressive aspects, along with a verb tense (past, present or future), to form the perfect progressive. We use this form to describe the completed portions of ongoing actions. That might sound convoluted, but it will make sense in time.

The present perfect progressive form is used for actions which began in the past and continue through the present – i.e., into “now.” It is formed by combining the present tense of “have” with the past participle of “be” and the present participle of the main verb. For an example of the present perfect continuous, I have been writing this column for more than a year now. The action is ongoing – in fact, I am literally doing it right now – yet we can talk about the portions of it which were completed in the past (previous columns, in this case).

As is the case in the previous example, the present perfect progressive is often used to describe how long an action has been ongoing (e.g., “Peyton Manning has been playing in the NFL since 1998.”).

The past and future perfect progressive tenses serve the same purpose as the present perfect progressive, except with a different point of reference.

The past perfect progressive (also called the pluperfect progressive) is formed by combining “had,” “been” and the present participle of the main verb: “I had been snowed in for 24 hours when we finally got my car out.” This form can also be used to describe actions that were interrupted by another action or event: “I had been sleeping when you called.”

The future perfect progressive is used in the same way as the present perfect progressive – only for future events. It is formed by combining “will” or “shall” with “have,” “been” and the present participle of the verb, like so: “I will have been writing this column for two years in October.”

The perfect progressive is a nuanced form, to be sure, but very useful at times – especially when you can’t stress enough that it is your sleep being interrupted.


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