What Is the Continuing Aspect? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Continuing Aspect

The continuing aspect (or progressive aspect as it's also called) is the aspect of a verb that expresses an ongoing action.

In other words, "continuing aspect" is the collective term for verbs (in the past tense, present tense, or future tense) in a continuing (or progressive) tense.

The "Continuing (or Progressive) Aspect" Verbs

In total, there are 12 tenses. The table below shows all four aspects and the three tenses in each aspect. The three "continuing (or progressive) aspect" tenses are highlighted in yellow.
The "Simple Aspect" TensesExamples
The simple aspect is used to describe facts and habits.
Simple Present Tense
  • The rabbit eats the lettuce.
  • Simple Past Tense
  • The rabbit ate the lettuce.
  • Simple Future Tense
  • The rabbit will eat the lettuce.
  •   
    The "Continuing (or Progressive) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The continuing aspect expresses ongoing actions.
    Present Continuous Tense
  • The rabbit is eating the lettuce.
  • Past Continuous Tense
  • The rabbit was eating the lettuce.
  • Future Continuous Tense
  • The rabbit will be eating the lettuce.
  •   
    The "Perfect (or Complete) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect aspect expresses completed actions.
    Present Perfect Tense
  • The rabbit has eaten the lettuce.
  • Past Perfect Tense
  • The rabbit had eaten the lettuce.
  • Future Perfect Tense
  • The rabbit will have eaten the lettuce.
  •   
    The "Perfect Continuous Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect continuous aspect expresses the end of an ongoing action.
    Present Perfect Continuous Tense
  • The whale has been eating the lettuce.
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense
  • The whale had been eating the lettuce.
  • Future Perfect Continuous Tense
  • The whale will have been eating the lettuce.
  • Slider Showing Verbs in the Continuing Aspect

    The following slider shows all 12 tenses. The continuing tenses (i.e., those in the continuing aspect) are highlighted with a yellow background.

    Examples of Verbs in the Continuing Aspect

    Here are some examples of verbs in the continuing aspect. Verbs in the continuing aspect are recognizable by the present participle (i.e., the word that ends "-ing").

    In the Past Tense
    • I was going.
    • (past continuing tense)
    • They were eating.
    • (past continuing tense)
    In the Present Tense
    • I am going.
    • (present continuing tense)
    • We are cleaning.
    • (present continuing tense)
    In the Future Tense
    • I will be going.
    • (future continuing tense)
    • You will be acting.
    • (future continuing tense)

    Forming the Continuing (Progressive) Aspect

    The continuing aspect is formed using a form of the auxiliary verb "to be" and the present participle. For example:

    Forming the Past Continuing Tense

    "was" or "were"
    +
    [present participle]
    • They were eating.
    Forming the Present Continuing Tense

    "is" or "are"
    +
    [present participle]
    • He is eating.
    • We are eating.
    Forming the Future Continuing Tense

    "will be"
    +
    [present participle]
    • He will be eating.

    Verb Tenses Showing the Continuing Aspect

    Here are the 12 tenses again. This time, the tenses are ordered under the headings past tense, present tense, and future tense. As before, the tenses in the continuing (or progressive) aspect are shaded in yellow.
    The 4 Past Tenses Example
    simple past tense I went
    past continuing tense I was going
    past perfect tense I had gone
    past perfect continuing tense I had been going
    The 4 Present Tenses Example
    simple present tense I go
    present continuing tense I am going
    present perfect tense I have gone
    present perfect continuing tense I have been going
    The 4 Future Tenses Example
    simple future tense I will go
    future continuing tense I will be going
    future perfect tense I will have gone
    future perfect continuing tense I will have been going

    Verb Tense Widget

    Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , then you can click it!

    Why Should I Care about the Continuing Aspect?

    Native English speakers can use all twelve tenses without giving the grammar a second thought. However, if you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time learning the tenses because expressing when something occurs is a fundamental communication skill. Remember though that tenses do not just tell us whether something is a past, present, or future action. They also tell us whether the action is habitual, completed, or ongoing (called the aspects).

    The trick to learning tenses is mastering the following:
    • The verb "to be" in all its forms (am, is, are, was, were, will be)
    • The verb "to have" in all its forms (has, have, had, will have)
    • Present participles, i.e., the "ing" form of verbs (e.g., running, dancing, seeing)
    • Past participles (e.g., ran, danced, seen)
    Interactive Exercise
    Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

    See Also

    What is the progressive aspect? What is aspect? What are the progressive tenses? What are the perfect progressive tenses? What is the past progressive tense? What is the present progressive tense? What is the future progressive tense? What is the past perfect progressive Tense? What is the present perfect progressive tense? What is the future perfect progressive tense?