Author Topic: The perfect progressive tense takes its time  (Read 12714 times)

Joe Carillo

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The perfect progressive tense takes its time
« on: November 04, 2021, 12:10:20 AM »
We will recall that the simple progressive tenses—also called the continuous tenses—give us the sense of an action taking place at a particular time in the present, in the past, or in the future. This action can begin before another action, be in progress during another action, or can continue after another time or action.

The present progressive describes (1) an ongoing action happening right now: “The girls are singing in the rain”; or (2) an action that will occur in the very near future; “I am taking Marie to dinner tomorrow.”

The past progressive describes (1) an action in progress in the past when another action happened or interrupted it: “He was resting when a fruit fell on his lap”; or (2) an action in progress at a specific time in the past: “Last year I was thinking of buying that house.”

The future progressive describes (1) an activity that will be in progress at a specific future time: “At eight tonight I will be watching a movie”; or (2) an activity that will continue over a period of time from now into the future: “We will be staying there for three more hours.”

The progressive perfect tenses are the continuing forms of the three simple perfect tenses. Formed by adding the suffix “–ing” to the base form of the main verb, they are paired off with a form of the auxiliary verb “have” and the past participle of the verb “be” using this formula: Subject + (has/had/have) + (been) + (base verb form + ing).

Present perfect progressive. This tense captures the sense of an action that started in the past, continues in the present, and may also keep going into the future. It focuses on the on-going nature of that action, condition, or event. Examples: “She has been working on her thesis.” “I have been depending on your kindness to get me through these difficult times.”


Past perfect progressive.  This tense captures the sense of (1) an action ongoing in the past but is now complete, or (2) a continuing action in the past that began before another past action did, or a continuing action that interrupted the first action. Examples: The pupils had been playing merrily before their teacher asked them to sit down.” “The woman had been watching TV for an hour before she realized that she had forgotten to feed her baby.”

The last example is a complex sentence that uses the past perfect progressive (“had been watching”) to emphasize the ongoing nature of the past act of watching TV, the past perfect (“had forgotten”) to suggest that the act of forgetting was completed, and the simple past (“realized”) to describe the most recent action.

Future perfect progressive.  This tense, now rarely used in everyday writing and speech, captures the sense of (1) a condition or action that will be in progress at a specific time in the future, and (2) an action that will continue over time from now into the future. Examples: “She will have been acting in the play for eight seasons by December.” “By the time the concert is over, the choral group will have been singing for four hours.” “When he comes back, the farm will have been lying fallow for years.”

We must take note though that modern usage now favors the use of the conditional “would” instead of the future perfect progressive: “She would have acted in that play for eight seasons by December.” “By the time the concert is over, the choral group would have sang for four hours.”)

This discussion of the present progressives brings to a close our review of the perfect tenses and should have given you an even keener and more precise sense of time.

(Next: The grammar of doubt and uncertainty)     November 11, 2021

This essay, 2070th of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the November 4, 2021 Internet edition of The Manila Times,© 2021 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. It is a condensed version of an 880-word exposition entitled "The Perfect Progressive Takes Its Time" that first appeared in the author's English Plain and Simple column in The Manila Times in early 2003 and that later became part of his book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today's Global Language (Manila Times Publishing Corp., first  edition 2004, and second updated edition 2008). All rights reserved.

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The perfect progressive tense takes its time

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« Last Edit: November 08, 2021, 01:25:47 AM by Joe Carillo »