Present Progressive

Other Uses of Present Progressive Tense

This entry is sequel to the first part “Understanding the Present Progressive TenseOpens in new window.” If you are referred directly to this page, you may use the above heading as well as this linkOpens in new window to see the first part.

1.  Using present progressive to express future plans:
If we want to, we can use present progressive to express plans in the future. Although it can’t be used for all future actions; it can only be used for plans.

See Practical Examples:
  • Eric and Moore are going to have a party next Friday.
  • Eric and Moore are having a party next Friday.
  • (Both sentences mean the same thing; they show a future plan.)
  • I’m going to go to Hawaii next summer.
  • I’m going to Hawaii next summer.
  • (Both sentences mean the same thing; they show a future plan.)
  • Ricky and Lucy will get married in July.
  • Ricky and Lucy are getting married in July.
  • (Both sentences mean the same thing; they show a future plan.)
    BUT:
  • I think it is raining tomorrow.
  • I think it will rain tomorrow.
  • (Rain is not something that we can plan, so we can’t use present progressive.)

Present Progressive can also be used with simple present to show “This action happens over time”
Usually present progressive shows that an action is happening right now, but it can also be used with simple presentOpens in new window to show that an action happens over time when the other action happens. That sounds a little obtuse; so let’s look at some examples which can help make it clearer.

Example #1
  • Every day when Gretchen gets home, her roommate is studying English.
  • In this sentence, is studying (present progressive) doesn’t mean that the action is happening right now. It means that the action is happening over time everyday when Gretchen gets home. In other words, the roommate starts to study before Gretchen gets home, and the roommate is still studying when Gretchen arrives. This is very similar to the way we usually use past progressiveOpens in new window

If we use simple presentOpens in new window instead of present progressive in this case, the meaning is different:

    Example #2
  • Every day when Gretchen gets home, her roommate studies English.
  • In this sentence, Gretchen’s roommate always starts to study at about the same time (and a little bit after) Gretchen gets home. This is different from Example #1, in which the roommate always starts studying before Gretchen arrives.

Exception

The one exception I can think of is the verb be. When we use be in this type of sentence, it can have two meanings:

i.   it can mean the same thing as if we used present progressive: that the action started before the time we’re talking about and has continued until that time.

For example:
  • Every day when Gretchen gets home, her roommate is in the kitchen.
  • (This means that the roommate went into the kitchen before Gretchen got home.)

ii.   Or, it can mean that the action happened shortly after the other action (like most verbs).

What's this?
For example:
  • Every day when Gretchen gets home, her roommate is really happy to see her.
  • (This sentence means that the roommate became happy at about the same time Gretchen got home.)

So, you’re probably wondering, “How do I know when be has the first meaning and when it has the second meaning?” As far as I can tell, the only way to know is context. You just have to look at the situation and guess what the speaker means.

2.  Present progressive (and other progressive tenses) can be used for temporary habits
Present progressive can show a temporary habit in the present. When you first started to study verb tenses, you probably learned that we use simple present for present habits and present progressive for actions that are happening right now (actions still in progress). But we also use Present Progressive (and sometimes the other progressive tenses) to show temporary habits.

If the present habit is temporary, we show this by using present progressive instead of simple present.

Examples include:
  • Usually I drive to school, but this semester I take the metro bus.
  • Usually I drive to school, but this semester I’m taking the metro bus.
  • (Present progressive shows that the habit is temporary. I’ll probably start driving again sometime in the future.)
  • Because it’s Lent, Luiz and Maya eat fish instead of meat.
  • Because it’s Lent, Luiz and Maya are eating fish instead of meat.(Present progressive shows that the habit is temporary. It suggests that Luiz and Maya will start eating meat again when Lent is finished.)
  • It’s Ramadan, so Saido and Muhammed fast every day from sunrise to sunset.
  • It’s Ramadan, so Saido and Muhammed are fasting every day from sunrise to sunset.
  • (Present progressive shows that the habit is temporary. It suggests that Saido and Muhammed will stop fasting when Ramadan ends.)

Other Tenses can also be used for temporary habits

We can use the other progressive tenses to show temporary habits, but unlike present progressive, we can also use the non–progressive form and (as far as I can tell) the meaning is always the same.

1.  Simple past and past progressive both can show a temporary habit in the past:

Compare the following:
  • The week before his wedding, Andy woke up every night in a cold sweat.
  • The week before his wedding, Andy was waking up every night in a cold sweat.
  • (These two sentences mean the same thing.)
  • Afam had practiced every day before his piano recital, so he played beautifully.
  • Afam had been practicing every day before his piano recital, so he played beautifully.
  • (These two sentences mean the same thing.)

2.  Present perfect and present perfect progressive both can show a temporary habit that started in past and has continued until now:

Compare the following:
  • John has gotten up at 4:30 every morning ever since he got that job at the bakery.
  • John has been getting up at 4:30 every morning ever since he got that job at the bakery.(These two sentences mean the same thing.)

3.  Future and future progressive both can show a temporary habit in the future:

Compare the following:
  • During finals week, I’ll grade papers every night until midnight.
  • During finals week, I’ll be grading papers every night until midnight.
  • (These two sentences mean the same thing.)

4.  Future perfect and future perfect progressive both can show a temporary habit that will happen before something in the future.

Compare the following:
  • When they finally pay off their mortgage, Karl and Maya will have made a house payment every month for thirty years!
  • When they finally pay off their mortgage, Karl and Maya will have been making a house payment every month for thirty years!
  • (These two sentences mean the same thing.)

5.  Another time we can use present progressive + always for habits. — English speakers sometimes use present progressive with always to talk about a habit. The most common time that we do this is when we’re complaining about someone’s habit that we find annoying. Simple present can be used with the same meaning, but then it sounds more like a statement of fact rather a complaint. We can also use keep + verb–ing for this type of complaint.

Compare the following:
  • James’s driving me crazy! He’s always leaving his dirty socks on the living room floor!
  • James’s driving me crazy! He always leaves his dirty socks on the living room floor!
  • James’s driving me crazy! He keeps leaving his dirty socks on the living room floor!
  • (These three sentences mean the same thing.)
  • My son is always getting parking tickets! He needs to learn to pay more attention when he parks his car.
  • My son always gets parking tickets! He needs to learn to pay more attention when he parks his car.
  • My son keeps getting parking tickets! He needs to learn to pay more attention when he parks his car.
  • (These three sentences mean the same thing.)

However, you’ll sometimes hear Americans use present progressive + always when they’re not complaining. Grammarians haven’t been able to figure out a rule about when this sounds natural to Americans and when it doesn’t, but here are some examples:

  • Karl is such a hard worker! He’s always staying late at the office to finish his work!
  • Maya is really kindhearted; she’s always helping people.
Important Hint! 
Not all verbs use present progressive tense.

Some verbs such as want, understand, and know, known as stative verbs don’t usually use present progressive (or other progressive tenses); instead, they use simple presentOpens in new window even if the action is happening right now. However, there are some that are sometimes progressive. For more in-depth studies about these kinds of verbs click on stative verbsOpens in new window.