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The Present Progressive of English Verbs

Conjugated verbs express a combination of grammatical tense, grammatical aspect, grammatical voice, and grammatical mood in English. Verb tense is defined as the grammaticalized expression of time. Verb aspect is defined as the grammaticalized expression of temporal structure. Verb mood is defined as the expression of modality. Verb voice is defined as the expression of relationships between predicate and nominal functions. The present progressive typically refers to verbs in the present tense, progressive aspect, indicative mood, and active voice.

The present progressive can be defined as a verb form that expresses an incomplete or ongoing action or state that began in the past and continues in the present and into the future. For example, the sentence The puppy is howling contains the verb phrase is howling, which is an example of the present progressive. The use of the present progressive in this example indicates both that the puppy began howling in the past, continues to howl in the present, and presumably will continue to howl in the future.

Formation of the Present Progressive

Just like many other verb forms in English, the present progressive is periphrastic. Periphrasis refers to a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word.” Verbs in the present progressive are therefore formed by a present tense form of the verb be followed by a present participle. The verb phrase patterns for the present progressive are as follows:

  • first person singular – am + present participle – I am driving home.
  • second person singular – are + present participle – You are singing a song.
  • third person singular – is + present participle – He is sighing loudly.
  • first person plural – are + present participle – We are travelling to Europe.
  • second person plural – are + present participle – You all are complaining about nothing.
  • third person plural – are + present participle – The children are bothering the neighbors.

Notice that all present tense forms of the verb be are irregular.

Use of the Present Progressive

Because the present progressive expresses ongoing or incomplete actions or states in the present, the verb form most often occurs in sentences that express the following situations:

  • Actions happening now
  • Extended actions that are in progress
  • Actions happening in the near future
  • Repetitive and irritating actions
  • Actions occurring for a limited time

For example:

  • My husband is washing the car.
  • She is studying English linguistics.
  • We are driving to Chicago tomorrow.
  • You are always bugging your sister.
  • I am moving some furniture this weekend.

The following visual illustrates the uses of the progressive aspects of English verbs:

Progressive of English Verbs

The present progressive expresses ongoing actions or states in the present.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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