What is the Progressive Verb Tense? Definition, Examples of the Continuous Tense

Progressive tense definition: The progressive tense is a verb tense that indicates a continuing action or an action in progress.

What is the Progressive Tense?

What are progressive verbs? The progressive verb tense, also called the continuous tense, is an English verb tense used to describe continuing actions—actions that are in progress and ongoing. It can be conjugated to be used in the past, present, or future.

The progressive tense is also used in the perfect progressive of past, present, and future tenses.

The progressive tense is formed with a “to be” verb conjugation and the present participle of a verb (-ing ending).

As mentioned above, the progressive tense indicates a continuing action or an action in progress.

Progressive Tense Examples

  • Progressive form and progressive verb forms

    I am riding a bike. (continuing action)

  • He is working on a project at school. (action in progress)

Types of Progressive Tenses

There are three progressive tenses in English: the past progressive, the present progressive, and the future progressives tenses.

See below for a brief description of each and click the link for a full description.       

Past Progressive

Progressive form of verbs What is the past progressive tense? The past progressive expresses events that lasted for a duration of time in the past.

To form the past progressive:

  • Subject + was/were + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The past progressive is used to express:

  • duration
    • I was reading.
  • interrupted actions in progress
    • I was reading when he arrived.
  • actions happening at the same time
    • I was lying on the bed while I was reading.
  • polite question
    • He was wondering if you could assist him.

Present Progressive Tense

Progressive tense verbs What is the present progressive tense? The present progressive expresses actions that are happening now or that are in progress.

To form the present progressive:

  • Subject + am/is/are + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The present progressive is used to express:

  • actions that are happening now
    • Maria is watching television.
  • actions that are in progress
    • We are choreographing a dance.

The present progressive can also be used for future events.

  • Subject + am/are + going + infinitive
  • She is going to take a test tomorrow.

Future Progressive

Progressive verb tenses What is the future progressive tense? The future progressive usually expresses actions will be happening (that subject will be in progress doing) at some point in the future.

To form the future progressive:

  • Subject + will be + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The future progressive is used to express:

  • future actions in progress
    • I will be finish college next year.
    • They will be vacationing soon.

Examples of Perfect Progressive Tenses

The progressive tense can also be combined with the perfect tense to form the perfect progressive tense. Here are the three perfect progressive tenses.

Past Perfect Progressive

Future progressive tense examples What is the past perfect progressive? The past perfect progressive most often expresses actions in the past that were in progress before other actions.

To form the past perfect progressive:

  • Subject + had been + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The past perfect progressive is used to express:

  • Duration of a past action (only up to a certain end point)
    • The water had been running for five minutes before she turned it off.
  • Showing cause of an action
    • They could not go to the beach because it had been thundering.
  • Conditional statements
    • If the sun had been shining, they could have gone to the beach.
  • Reported speech
    • She said the weather had been frustrating.

Present Perfect Progressive

Present progressive tense verbs What is the present perfect progressive? The present perfect progressive tense expresses actions that began in the past and continue to the present and actions that have recently stopped.

To form the present perfect progressive:

  • Subject + has/had + been + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The present perfect progressive is used to express:

  • actions that began in the past but continue to present
    • The sun has been shining all day.
  • actions that have recently stopped
    • They have been expecting you.

Future Perfect Progressive

Continuous tenses in English What is the future perfect progressive? The future perfect progressive tense expresses actions that will last for a set time at a specific moment in the future.

To form the future perfect progressive:

  • Subject + will have been + present participle (and “-ing” to end of the verb)

The future perfect progressive is used to express:

  • actions that will have a specific time frame in the future
    • By 2017, George will have been attending college for five years.
    • We will have been waiting for two hours by the time plan lands.

Summary: What is a Progressives Tense?

Define progressive tense: the definition of progressive tense is a category of verb tenses used to describe continuing action.

In summary,

  • The progressive tense is used to indicate actions continuing or already in progress.
  • The progressive tense has past, present, and future conjugations.
  • It also is used to form the perfect progressive tenses.

To form the progressive tense, the “to be” verb needs to be appropriately conjugated and added to a present participle verb.