What Is the Progressive Aspect? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Progressive Aspect

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

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

The "Progressive (or Continuing) Aspect" Verbs

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

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

    Examples of Verbs in the Progressive Aspect

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

    In the Past Tense
    • He was singing.
    • (past progressive tense)
    • We were playing.
    • (past progressive tense)
    In the Present Tense
    • I am leaving.
    • (present progressive tense)
    • They are diving.
    • (present progressive tense)
    In the Future Tense
    • I will be flying.
    • (future progressive tense)
    • They will be acting.
    • (future progressive tense)

    Forming the Progressive Aspect

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

    Forming the Past Progressive Tense

    "was" or "were"
    +
    [present participle]
    • We were writing.
    Forming the Present Progressive Tense

    "is" or "are"
    +
    [present participle]
    • She is diving.
    • They are eating.
    Forming the Future Progressive Tense

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

    Verb Tenses Showing the Progressive 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 progressive (or continuing) aspect are shaded in yellow.
    The 4 Past Tenses Example
    simple past tense I went
    past progressive tense I was going
    past perfect tense I had gone
    past perfect progressive tense I had been going
    The 4 Present Tenses Example
    simple present tense I go
    present progressive tense I am going
    present perfect tense I have gone
    present perfect progressive tense I have been going
    The 4 Future Tenses Example
    simple future tense I will go
    future progressive tense I will be going
    future perfect tense I will have gone
    future perfect progressive 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 Progressive Aspect?

    If you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time learning the tenses because expressing when something occurs is a fundamental skill when communicating. Remember that tenses do not just state whether an action is a past, present, or future one. Tenses also state whether an action is habitual, completed, or ongoing. (These are called the aspects of the tenses.).

    Here's a good tip to help you with mastering the tenses: Concentrate on 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., dancing, knowing, eating)
    • Past participles (e.g., danced, known, eaten)
    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 continuing 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?