What is the progressive aspect
The progressive aspect allows the speaker to express an action that is unfinished or in progress. They generally refer to an action in a given moment, not regularity. The aim of the speaker is to refer to an action that is ongoing at a given moment. It can also be used to describe an action within a given time frame.
She is playing with her phone during the break.
The professor was explaining the solution when the bell rang.
I was walking home when it started raining.
How to use the progressive aspect
If you have decided to use progressive aspect, the next step is to decide which tense to put the verb into. The progressive aspect can be used in all three tenses: present, past and future. In each tense, you must use the auxiliary verb of Progressive Tenses in the correct tense.
General structure of Progressive Tenses
S + conjugated form of ‘to be’ + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + O
Progressive Tenses use ‘to be’ as an auxiliary verb that must be followed by the progressive participle of the main verb. Remember that ‘to be’ needs to agree with the subject at all times. Note that ‘to be’ is always followed by the -progressive participle of the main verb in progressive tenses to express continuity. You may see ‘to be’ followed by the past participle of the verb which is used in Passive Voice that is not a tense.
Take a look at the highlighted area to see the correct form of progressive verbs in each tense:
For a detailed explanation and usage, check out the individual page of each Progressive Tense here:
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