English Language
Progressive Aspect

Progressive Aspect

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Significance of Aspect in English Grammar

Aspect plays a vital role in English grammar as it expresses the duration of a verb's action and whether it is ongoing, repeated, or completed. In this article, we will explore the 'ongoing' aspect, also known as the progressive aspect, in English grammar.

Understanding the Progressive Aspect in English Grammar

The progressive aspect conveys an ongoing action or state that is not yet complete. It is the opposite of the perfective aspect, which indicates a completed action or state. The progressive aspect is often identified through the use of the 'ing' inflection, such as in 'he is playing' or 'they are singing'.

This aspect is also referred to as the 'continuous aspect'.

The Role of Inflection in Expressing Aspect

Inflection modifies the structure of words to express their grammatical properties. Therefore, examining the inflections of words is an effective way to determine the tense or aspect of a sentence. The inflectional suffix -ing signifies an ongoing/uncompleted verb and is used in the progressive aspect. For example, in the sentence 'The parrot is shouting loudly,' the verb 'shouting' has the -ing inflection, indicating that the action is ongoing. Conversely, the inflectional suffix -ed signifies a completed verb and is used in the perfect aspect. For instance, in the sentence 'The parrot shouted loudly,' the verb 'shouted' has the -ed inflection, indicating that the action has been completed.

Examples of the Progressive Aspect

Here are some examples of sentences in the progressive tense:

  • He is playing football.
  • We were building the wall.
  • Joe will be driving tomorrow.

In these sentences, the progressive aspect is used to express an ongoing action that is not yet completed in the present, past, and future, respectively.

Combining Aspect and Tense

Aspect and tense are combined to form verb tenses. The progressive aspect can be combined with the three tenses - past, present, and future - to express an ongoing action or state. The three progressive verb tenses are:

  • Past progressive tense
  • Present progressive tense
  • Future progressive tense

When aspect and tense are combined, they form a verb phrase, which is a group of words that function as a verb. In the progressive aspect, the verb to be (am, are, is, was/were, been, being, will be) is followed by a verb + ing. For example, in the sentence 'He is writing,' the words 'is writing' form the verb phrase. Similarly, in the sentence 'They were working hard,' the words 'were working' form the verb phrase.

The Significance of the Progressive Aspect

Now that we have a clear understanding of the progressive aspect, let's examine why and how it is used in spoken and written English.

Examples of the Past Progressive Tense

Let's take an example of the past progressive tense from the novel 'Twilight' (2005):

'I was wearing my favourite shirt - sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture.'

In this sentence, the main character uses the past progressive tense to describe an ongoing action in the past. The formula for forming the past progressive tense is: past tense of the verb 'to be' (was, were) + verb root (e.g. walk, run, dance) + ing. In this sentence, the verb phrase 'was wearing' is formed by the past tense of 'to be' (was) and the verb 'wear' + ing. The past tense of 'to be' (was) indicates that the action ('wearing') occurred in the past, while the -ing ending signifies that it was an ongoing action.

Examples of the Present Progressive Tense

Here's an example of the present progressive tense from the film 'Mean Girls' (2004):

'Get in loser, we're going shopping.'

In this sentence, the present progressive is used to express an ongoing action. The girls are in the process of going shopping and have not yet completed it. The formula for forming the present progressive tense is: present tense of the verb 'to be' (is, are, am) + verb root (e.g. go, eat, sleep) + ing.


Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime