present progressive (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The structure of the present progressive in English.

Definition

In English grammar, the present progressive is a verb construction (made up of a present form of the verb "to be" plus a present participle) that usually conveys a sense of ongoing action at the present time--for example, "I am working now." Also known as durative aspect.

The present progressive may also be used to refer to things that are planned for the future, as in, "I am resigning tomorrow."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "I am looking at my piece of pizza. I am watching pepperoni glisten. It is my third day at the new school and I am sitting at a table next to the bathrooms. I am eating lunch with the blond girls with the pink sweaters, the girls who talk incessantly about Harvard even though we're only in the seventh grade."
    (Amy Reed, Beautiful. Simon Pulse, 2009)
     
  • "I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some."
    (Herbert Rappaport)
     
  • "Roger Hale is sitting in the rubbish bin again. He is a squirt of a kid with a nasty intelligent little face."
    (Olga Pavlinova Olenich, "Teacherwoman." The Best Australian Humorous Writing, ed. by Andrew O'Keefe and Steve Vizard. Melbourne University Press, 2008)
     
  • "I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving."
    (Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858)
     
  • "When telling a story, the performer knows exactly what is coming next and uses the illusion of spontaneity as a device to enhance the story."
    (Robert Fulghum, Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas, 2001)
     
  • "Anyway, tonight, we are having a perfectly balanced supper of fish fingers (essential fatty fish oils), baked beans (lovely roughage) and oven chips (bursting with potato goodness)."
    (Rachel Johnson, Notting Hell. Touchstone, 2007)
     
  • Uses of the present progressive:
     
    • to refer to events that are in progress at the time of speaking or writing
    • to refer to things that are taking place or that are true around the moment of speaking or writing
    • to describe actions that are repeated or regular but are either temporary or may be judged to be temporary
    • to describe regular actions in relation to a particular time or a specified event, especially when those events interrupt something already in progress
    • to refer to gradual processes of change
    • with adverbs of indefinite frequency (such as always, constantly, continually, forever) to describe events that are regular but unplanned and often undesired
    (Adapted from R. Carter and M. McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
     
  • The Simple Present and the Present Progressive
    - "The present progressive tense is especially difficult for those whose native language does not use this tense. . . .
    I am searching for an error in the document.
    [The search is occurring now and may continue.]
    In contrast, the simple present tense more often relates to habitual actions:
    I search for errors in my documents.
    [I regularly search for errors, but I am not necessarily searching now.]"
    (Gerald J. Alred et al., The Business Writer's Handbook. Macmillan, 2006)
     
    - "[I]t is instructive to compare the present simple (54a) with the present progressive (54b):
    (54a) I live in London.
    (54b) I am living in London.
    The sense of (54a) is that this is a relatively permanent state of affairs--there is no suggestion that the speaker is intending to leave any time soon; in (54b), the sense is that the situation is temporary; London is where the speaker happens to live at the moment, but this could change.

    "The present progressive can also carry a 'habitual' sense in an appropriate context. We see this in (55).
    (55) I've recently changed my newspaper; now I'm reading the Guardian.
    Again, the present progressive is frequently used to refer to situations that have yet to begin:
    (56) They're flying to Rome in August."
    (Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. Information Age Publishing, 2010)