What is the perfect progressive aspect
The perfect progressive aspect combines the perfect and progressive aspects. The progressive aspect allows the speaker to express an action that is unfinished or in progress. The perfect aspect refers to an an unfinished action that started in the past and is still happening in the present. Combining the two, the perfect progressive aspect expresses actions that started in the past, are still happening in the present and the focus is on the continuity of the action. For example, if you want to say that you started dating your boyfriend a long time ago and you’re still seeing him, that’s a perfect opportunity to use perfect progressive:
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a long time. → focus is on the fact that they are still together
The same logic is true in past and future tenses. Past perfect usually expresses an action prior to another action. If you use Past Perfect Progressive, it will mean that something that started in the distant past was still happening when the other event happened. For example,
We had been dating for a long time when we go married. → focus is on the fact that dating started earlier and was still going on when they got married
Undisputedly, Future Perfect Progressive is not the most common tense, but it is not very complicated once you understand the logic behind. If you want to say that an action will start earlier but will still be going on when another event happens, that’s Future Perfect Progressive’s time to shine! Let’s look at an example.
I will have been dating him for 10 years when I’ll finally walk down the aisle. → focus is on the continuity of dating in the future at a given moment which is the wedding in this example
General structure of Perfect Progressive Tenses
The structure of Perfect Progressive Tenses combines the auxiliary verbs of both perfect and progressive tenses. The auxiliary verb ‘to have’ expresses perfection which is followed by ‘been’, the third form of ‘to be’, and the progressive participle of the main verb.
S + conjugated form of ‘to have’ + been + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + O
The auxiliary verb ‘to have’ needs to be modified according to which tense we need: present, past or future. Note that you only need to change ‘to have’; ‘been’ and the -ing form of the action verb always stay the same.
Take a look at the highlighted area to see the correct form of perfect progressive verbs in each tense:
For a detailed explanation and usage, check out the individual page of each Perfect Progressive Tense here:
Present Perfect Progressive Tense
Past Perfect Progressive Tense
Future Perfect Progressive Tense
Verbs that are usually not used in Progressive Tenses
Some verbs that express states and not actions or processes cannot be used in Progressive Tenses. The easiest way to decide if you can use a verb in progressive form is to ask yourself if you can see somebody doing it. If you cannot see someone doing it, stick to Simple Tenses. The verbs usually express something abstract such as emotions, opinion or possession.
- Senses / Perception: to feel, to hear, to see, to smell, to taste
- Opinions / beliefs: to assume, to believe, to consider, to doubt, to feel (=to think), to find (=to consider), to suppose, to think*
*‘To think’ cannot be used in a progressive tense if it expresses opinion. However, if it expresses the action of someone thinking about something without any result, it can be used in Progressive Tenses.
- Mental states: to forget, to imagine, to know, to mean, to notice, to recognize, to remember, to understand
- Emotions: to envy, to fear, to dislike, to hate, to hope, to like, to love, to mind, to prefer, to regret, to want, to wish
- Measurement: to contain, to cost, to hold, to measure, to weigh
- Others: to look (=to resemble), to seem, to be (in most cases), to have (=to own)
Some verbs have a different meaning in Progressive and Simple Tenses. Make sure to note these when forming sentences or translating them.
- This massage feels nice. → perception of the massage’s quality
- Franz is feeling sick from the salad. → his health is currently affected by the salad
- My neighbor has 20 cats. → expressing ownership
- I’m having a great time with you. → being entertained, feeling good
- You can’t see the London Eye from here. → perception
- I’m seeing my mom later during the week. → planning on meeting