Continuous Aspect Verbs

The Continuous or Progressive Aspect indicates a single ongoing action. The action has begun and is continuing, but does not indicate an end. A 'to be' helping verb is placed in front of the main verb + ing. Continuous verb forms occur with verbs that denote a short or long duration. (study, work, eat) 

Present Continuous

  • I am eating
  • You, We, They are eating
  • He, She, It is eating
  • Short Duration:
    • He is attending school today.
    • They were fishing all morning.
  • Long Duration:
    • He is attending college this year.
    • She is writing a book.

Because of its ability to show an action in progress, the continuous form often conveys greater vividness, emotion, or emphasis than the simple aspect.

  • We reached the lake as the sun was setting.
  • She was coughing all night long.
  • We are looking for a new house this summer.

Sometimes the present continuous verb indicates a future event when it is part of a plan made in the present. Verbs of intention are used to convey the future meaning. (thinking, considering, wanting, hoping, planning)

  • Future Event: He is planning to go to college.
  • Future Event: I am hoping to get a good grade on the test.

Teaching Continuous Verbs

A fun way to introduce and review continuous verbs is playing charades. You can pantomime a few actions and encourage students guess what you are doing. Next get the students involved in charades (Class or small groups). Give them pictures of actions and let them act these out. Fun and learning always go well together.

Next, write some of the sentences on the board showing the 'be' helping verb and the main verb + ing. 

    Past Continuous

    A past continuous verb is formed by adding "was" or "were" before the verb + ing.

    •  I, He, She, It was eating
    • You, We, They were eating
    In addition to describing a past event's duration, the past continuous has other purposes. It may express an event at on point in time. It can also express and interrupted action or two simultaneous actions.
    •  One Point in the Past:
      • What were you doing at 10 am yesterday?
      • At ten o'clock I was getting ready for bed.
    • Interrupted Action:
      • I was sleeping when I heard a loud noise.
      • I saw a car accident while I was walking.
    • Simultaneous Actions:
      • I was setting the table while he was cooking vegetables.
      • He was dusting while I was sweeping.

    Future Continuous

    A future continuous verb is formed by putting will bed before the verb + ing. 

    • I, You, He, She, It. We, They will be eating

    The future continuous indicates the duration of an action in the future. Similar to the past tense, it can also indicate a point in time of an action. Often 'soon' is added to indicate an action in the very near future.  See and Hear have special meanings or suppositions.

    • Point in Time: I will be leaving at 6:00.
    • Soon: We will be arriving soon.
    • See: I'll be seeing you soon. (I expect to meet you again.)
    • Hear: You'll be hearing from me. ( I will communicate with you.)

    Negative Statements

    Negative statements are formed by inserting not between the 'to be' helping verb and main verb for the present and past tense. Insert not after 'will'. 

    • Present: I am not eating. / I'm not eating.
    • Present: He is not eating. / He's not eating.
    • Present: We are not eating. / We're not eating.
    • Past: I was not eating. / I wasn't eating.
    • Past: We were not eating. / We weren't eating.
    • Future: I will not be eating. / I won't be eating.
    • Future: We will not be eating. / We won't be eating.


    When speaking, English speakers usually use contractions. Practice using 'to be' with the present tense, 'not' contractions with the past tense and 'will' contractions with  the future tense.

    • Present Continuous: I'm, he's, she's, it's, we're, you're, they're
    • Past Continuous: I / he / she / it wasn't, we / you / they weren't
    • Future Continuous: I'll, he'll, she'll, it'll, we'll, you'll, they'll


    Forming questions with continuous verbs requires the helping verb be moved in front of the subject. For the present and past tense this means moving the 'to be' helping verb. However in the future tense, 'will' is moved in front of the subject.

    • Present Continuous: Am I eating? Are you eating? Is he eating
    • Past Continuous: Was he eating? Were you eating?
    • Future Continuous: Will you be eating? Will they be eating?

    Be Going To

    It should be noted that a common way of indicating the future, particularly in speech, is using 'be going to' in front of a verb. This is not a continuous verb; it is a future marker.

    • I am going to do my homework after school.
    • I am going to visit her next week.

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