Grammar Tips: A Quick Guide to the Progressive Tenses
  • 4-minute read
  • 27th January 2021

Grammar Tips: A Quick Guide to the Progressive Tenses

If you’re an English speaker, you almost certainly use the progressive (or continuous) tenses every day. But what exactly are the progressive tenses? And how do they work? Check out our guide below to find out how to use the progressive and perfect progressive tenses correctly in your writing.

What Are the Progressive Tenses?

We use the progressive or continuous tenses to describe ongoing actions. This includes ongoing actions in the present (the present progressive tense), the past (the past progressive tense) and the future (the future progressive tense).

These tenses are formed by using a form of the verb “be” (e.g., is, am, are, was, were) plus a present participle (i.e., an -ing verb). For instance:

I am baking a cake.

We were swimming in the sea.

We can also form perfect forms of these tenses (i.e., the present, past, and future progressive tenses). These use some form of the phrase “have been” before a present participle to describe ongoing actions in relation to a given timeframe:

I have been baking all morning.

We had been swimming since daybreak.

Let’s take a look at each of the progressive tenses in more detail.

The Present, Past and Future Progressive Tenses

We use the progressive tenses to refer to ongoing actions. The present progressive tense, for instance, combines “am,” “is,” or “are” with a present participle to describe ongoing actions happening in the present moment:

I am reading my book.

The neighbor’s dog is barking again.

The boys are running around the house.

The past progressive tense describes ongoing actions that began and ended in the past. You can also use it to say what was happening when another action begins. In either case, it involves using “was” or “were” with a present participle:

I was reading that book last week.

They were driving home when the snowstorm started.

And the future progressive tense is used for ongoing actions that will happen at some point in the future. You can form it by using “will be” with a present participle:

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I will be finishing college next year.

They will be leaving when the taxi arrives.

Make sure to pick the right form of “be” for the tense you are using!

The Perfect Progressive Tenses

We can use the perfect progressive (or perfect continuous) tenses to describe ongoing actions in relation to a stated timeframe.

The present perfect progressive tense, for example, describes actions that began in the past and continue into the present (or that have recently ended). It is formed by combining “has been” or “have been” with a present participle:

I have been watching television all day.

The sun has been shining, but it is cloudy now.

The past perfect progressive tense refers to ongoing actions that began and ended in the past, typically in relation to another action (or a stated time). It is formed by combining “had been” and a present participle:

The cake had been baking for an hour when she smelled smoke.

We had been waiting for them to arrive since the morning.

The future progressive tense combines “will have been” and a present participle to describe the duration of an ongoing action in relation to a set time or event:

By the end of the year, he will have been working here for six months.

You will have been walking for three days by the time you arrive.

These tenses all combine some form of “have been” with a present participle.

Proofreading for Grammar

Hopefully, our quick guide will help you use the progressive tenses with confidence. But if you would like a little extra help with your grammar, our proofreaders are experts. Why not submit a free trial document for proofreading today?

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