What is Progressive Aspect

George Harrison

 

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In English grammar, progressive aspect refers to a verb phrase made with a form of be plus -ing that indicates an action or condition continuing in the present, past, or future. A verb in the progressive aspect (also known as the continuous form) usually describes something that takes place during a limited time period.

According to Geoffrey Leech et al., the English progressive "has developed a rather complex meaning, or set of meanings, by comparison with progressive constructions in other languages" (Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study, 2012)

Examples of Progressive Forms

Michael Swan: A progressive form does not simply show the time of an event. It also shows how the speaker sees the event--generally as ongoing and temporary rather than completed or permanent. (Because of this, grammars often talk about 'progressive aspect' rather than 'progressive tenses.')

James Joyce: History is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken.

George Harrison: We were talking about the space between us all
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion.

Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal:
I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through.

Present Perfect Progressive
Jackson Browne:
Well I've been out walking
I don't do that much talking these days.

Past Perfect Progressive
C.S. Lewis: ‘You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,’ said the Lion.

Future Perfect Progressive
Mowbray Meades: Well, dearest, I know you will have been thinking a good deal about me today and wondering how I have faired."

Getting More Progressive

Arika Okrent: English has been getting more progressive over time--that is, the progressive form of the verb has steadily increased in use. (The progressive form is the –ing form that indicates something is continuous or ongoing: 'They are speaking' vs. 'They speak.') This change started hundreds of years ago, but in each subsequent era, the form has grown into parts of the grammar it hadn't had much to do with in previous eras. For example, at least in British English, its use in the passive ('It is being held' rather than 'It is held') and with modal verbs like should, would, and might ('I should be going' rather than 'I should go') has grown dramatically. There is also an increase of be in the progressive form with adjectives ('I'm being serious' vs. 'I'm serious').