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Progressive Aspect

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Progressive Aspect

Aspect is an essential part of English grammar. It expresses how the action of a verb extends over time and states whether it is ongoing, repeated, or completed. In this article, you will learn more about the 'ongoing' aspect, called the progressive aspect.

What is the Progressive Aspect in English Grammar?

The progressive aspect expresses an action or state of being that is ongoing and not yet completed.

It is the opposite of the perfective (completed) aspect that tells us that an action or state has been completed. We can often recognise the progressive aspect from the use of the inflection 'ing,' e.g. ' he is playing' or 'they are singing'.

The progressive aspect can also be called the 'continuous aspect'.

Inflection expresses the grammatical properties of a word by modifying its structure or formation. Therefore, looking at the inflections of words is a great way to work out the tense or aspect in which a sentence is written.

  • The inflectional suffix -ing shows that the verb is ongoing/uncompleted and is, therefore, the progressive aspect.

For example, 'The parrot is shouting loudly.'

For example, 'The parrot shouted loudly.'

Examples of the Progressive Aspect

Some examples of the progressive tense include:

He is playing football.

Here we can see that the progressive aspect shows that the subject (he) is performing an ongoing action (playing) that is not yet complete.

We were building the wall.

Here we can see that the progressive aspect is used to show an ongoing action in the past. We do not know if the action is completed yet.

Joe will be driving tomorrow.

Here we can see that the progressive aspect is used to show an ongoing action that will happen in the future. The sentence does not state when or whether the action will be completed.

Combining Aspect and Tense

Aspect is combined with tense to create verb tenses. We can combine the progressive aspect with one of the three tenses to express an ongoing action or state in the past, present, or future.

The three progressive verb tenses are:

  • Past progressive tense

  • Present progressive tense

  • Future progressive tense

When we combine both tense and aspect, we form a verb phrase - a group of words that function as a verb. Verb phrases in the progressive aspect include the verb to be (am, are, is, was/were, been, being, will be) followed by a verb + ing.

'He is writing'.

In this sentence, the words 'is writing' form the verb phrase.

'They were working hard'.

In this sentence, the words 'were working' form the verb phrase.

Progressive aspect image of man writing StudySmarterHe is writing - Pixabay

Why is the progressive aspect important?

Now that we understand what the progressive aspect is, let's look at how and why it is used in spoken and written English.

The progressive aspect is useful in the English language as it expresses certain time-related characteristics of a sentence. By using the progressive aspect, we understand that the action or state is ongoing and not completed. When combined with tense, it gives us more information about when an ongoing action or state takes (or took) place.

Past Progressive Examples

Let's look at an example of the present progressive tense taken from the fictional novel Twilight (2005).

'I was wearing my favourite shirt-sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture.'

In the example, the main character Bella Swan uses the past progressive tense to describe what she was wearing in the past.

We form the past progressive using the following formula:

past tense of the verb 'to be' (was, were) + verb root (e.g. walk, run, dance) + ing

Let's break the example sentence down:

  • The past tense of the verb 'to be' (was) and the verb 'wear' + ing form the verb phrase 'was wearing'

  • The verb 'was' tells us that the action ('wearing') occurred in the past

  • The verb ending '-ing' tells us that the action was ongoing

  • These elements come together to form the past progressive tense

Present Progressive Examples

Let's look at an example of the present progressive tense taken from the film Mean Girls (2004).

'Get in loser, we're going shopping.'

Here we can see that the present progressive is used to express an action that is ongoing. The girls are in the process of going shopping and have not yet completed the action.

We form the present progressive using the following formula:

present tense of the verb 'to be' (is, are, am) + verb root (e.g. walk, run, dance) + ing

Let's break the example sentence down:

  • The present tense of the verb 'to be' (are) and the verb 'go' + ing form the verb phrase 'we're going'

  • The verb 'are' tells us that the action ('going') is occurring in the present

  • The verb ending '-ing' tells us that the action is ongoing

  • These elements come together to form the present progressive tense

Future Progressive Examples

Let's look at an example of the future progressive tense taken from the film Lord of the Rings (2001).

'By nightfall, these hills will be swarming with Orcs!'

Here we can see that the future progressive is used to express an action that will be ongoing in the future. The character Aragorn knows that the event ('swarming') is ongoing, and he does not state if this event will be completed.

We form the future progressive using the following formula:

Future tense of the verb 'to be' (will be) + verb root (e.g. walk, run, dance) + ing

Let's break the example sentence down:

  • The future tense of the verb 'to be' (will be) and the verb 'swarm' + ing form the verb phrase 'will be swarming'

  • The verb formation 'will be' tells us that the action ('swarm') will be occurring in the future

  • The verb ending '-ing' tells us that the action will be ongoing

  • These elements come together to form the future progressive tense

Progressive aspect Image of hills StudySmarterBy nightfall, these hills will be swarming with orcs! - Pixabay

What is the perfect progressive aspect in English grammar?

The perfect progressive aspect is a combination of the progressive (ongoing) aspect (action in progress) and the perfective (completed) aspect (expressing an action that occurred before a specific point in time).

The perfect progressive aspect describes an event occurring at a previous period of time that is linked to something happening later.

Like the progressive aspect, we can combine the perfect progressive aspect with the three tenses to make:

  • The past perfect progressive aspect

  • The present perfect progressive aspect

  • The future perfect progressive aspect

We form the perfect progressive using the following formula:

have/has been + verb root + -ing.

Examples of the Perfect Progressive Aspect

Let's have a quick look at some examples of the perfect progressive in each of the three tenses:

Past perfect progressive

The past perfect progressive expresses an ongoing action in the past that was completed later.

We had been studying maths for hours.

Present perfect progressive

The present perfect progressive expresses an action that started in the past and continues into the present.

She has been living here for ages.

Future present progressive

The future perfect progressive expresses an action or state of being that will start and continue in the future.

I will have been working here for five years on Monday.

Progressive Aspect - Key Takeaways

  • The progressive aspect expresses an action or state of being that is ongoing and not yet completed.
  • Aspect is combined with tense to create verb tenses.
  • The three progressive verb tenses are the past progressive tense, present progressive tense, and future progressive tense.
  • The progressive aspect is the opposite of the perfective (completed) aspect which tells us that an action or state has been completed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Progressive Aspect

The progressive aspect expresses an action or state of being that is ongoing and not yet completed. 

An example of the past progressive is 'We were building a wall'. 

An example of the present progressive is 'Josh is playing football'. 

An example of the future progressive is 'Ava will be driving tomorrow'.

The verb to be (am, are, is, was, were, been and being) occurs in the progressive aspect sentence.

The simple tense states that an action has taken place, e.g. 'He played football'. 

The progressive aspect expresses that this action is ongoing, e.g. 'He is playing football'.

The three progressive verb tenses are the past progressive tense, present progressive tense, and future progressive tense.

Final Progressive Aspect Quiz

Question

What is the progressive aspect?

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Answer

The progressive aspect expresses an action or state of being that is ongoing and not yet completed. 

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Question

What aspect is the opposite of the progressive aspect?

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Answer

The perfective aspect is the opposite of the progressive aspect.

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Question

Is the following sentence an example of the progressive aspect? ‘The pigs are flying through the sky’.


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Answer

Yes

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Question

Is the following sentence an example of the progressive aspect? ‘The dog ate a bowl of cereal’.


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Answer

No

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Is the following sentence an example of the progressive aspect? ‘Joan will be baking a cake tomorrow’.


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Answer

Yes

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Question

Is the following sentence an example of the progressive aspect? ‘Joe used to eat lots of apples'.

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Answer

No

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Question

What verb tense is the following sentence? I was loving my new alien outfit for Halloween!


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Answer

Past progressive tense

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Question

Aspect is combined with tense to create verb tenses. True or false?


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Answer

True

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Question

Names the three progressive verb tenses.


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Answer

The past progressive tense, present progressive tense, and future progressive tense.

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Question

We can often recognise the progressive aspect from which of the following verb endings?


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Answer

-ing

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Question

The sentences ‘she was dancing’ and ‘Chloe and Faye were hiking’ are examples are which verb tense?


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Answer

The past progressive tense

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Question

The sentences ‘Ritchie is playing golf’ and ‘James and Josh are going roller skating’ are examples are which verb tense?


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Answer

The present progressive tense

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Question

The sentences ‘Hannah will be shopping all day tomorrow’ and ‘Alex and Jenny will be celebrating their anniversary this month’ are examples are which verb tense?

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Answer

The future progressive tense

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Question

Fill in the blanks. The perfect progressive aspect is a combination of the ________ aspect (an action in progress) and the _________ (completed) aspect. It describes an event occurring at a _______ period of time that is linked to a _______ time.

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Answer

The perfect progressive aspect is a combination of the progressive aspect (an action in progress) and the perfective (completed) aspect. It describes an event occurring at a previous period of time that is linked to a later time.

Show question

Question

3 of the following are examples of the perfect progressive aspect. Find the odd one out.


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Answer

John will be doing the exam tomorrow.

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Question

Identify the tense:

'I was cooking dinner when the doorbell went.'

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Answer

Past continuous (progressive) tense

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Question

Identify the tense:

'I am searching for it right now.'

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Answer

Present continuous (progressive tense)

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Question

Identify the tense 

'I had been looking for an hour before I gave up.'

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Answer

Past perfect continuous (progressive) tense

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Question

Identify the tense:

'I will be staying at my mum's place.'

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Answer

Future continuous (progressive) tense

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