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The Present Continuous (Progressive)

I. The Formation.

The Present Continuous is formed by means of the Present Indefinite of the auxiliary verb 'to be' and Participle I of the notional verb. In the interrogative form the auxiliary verb is placed before the subject. In the negative form the negative particle ''not' is placed after the auxiliary verb.

  • I am reading.

  • He is reading.

  • Is he reading?

  • He isn't reading.

II. Spelling of the –ing forms.

A mute –e at the end of the verb is dropped and –ing is added:

make – making, close – closing, etc.

A final consonant is doubled if it is preceded by a short stressed vowel or if a verb ends in a stressed –er, -ur:

Cut – cutting, begin – beginning, prefer – preferring, occur – occurring, etc.

A final –l is doubled:

travel – travelling, etc.

A final –ie changes into y:

tie – tying, die – dying, etc.

III. The Use of Present Continuous.

1) The Present Continuous is used to denote actions going on at the moment of speaking.

  • Look! Uncle Tom is dancing.

  • You are being rude.

  • My dear, you are talking nonsense.

Note 1: There are a number of verbs in English that cannot be used in the continuous forms. We use the Present Indefinite in such sentences.

Note 2: The Present Indefinite not the Present Continuous is used to denote actions which though going on at the moment of speaking are important as simple facts rather than as actions in progress.

  • Why don't you answer?

  • Why don't you listen?

  • Why don't you write? Where is your pen?

Note 3: If two simultaneous actions are in progress at the moment of speaking but only one of them is of importance from the point of view of the speaker, this one takes the form of the present Continuous, while the other is in the Present Indefinite. This is often the case in radio, television, etc.

  • I stand here; the boys and girls smiling happily are moving towards the gates.

Note 4: When there are two actions one of which is in progress and the other is a habitual one, the first is expressed by the Present Continuous and the second by the resent Indefinite.

  • I never talk while I am working.

Note 5: We can use the Present Continuous with the Present Indefinite to give more immediacy to a past narrative. We use the continuous for actions which form a background, i.e. they started before the actions within the narrative.

  • There’s an old woman with thick glasses who’s serving the hot drinks, so I go up to her and ask.... (She started serving before the action of the narrative).

Note 6: When a continuous is used to refer to a short momentary action, it often suggests repetition.

  • Why are you jumping up and down?

  • The door was banging in the wind.

Note 7: Continuous forms can make requests, questions and statements less direct. They sound less definite than simple forms, because they suggest something temporary and incomplete.

  • I am hoping you can lend me £10. (less definite than I hope...)

  • I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

2) The Present Continuous is used to denote temporary actions or situations that are going on now or “around now”: before, during and after the moment of speaking. Common adverbs with this form are: now, just, still and at the moment.

  • How is Dartie behaving now?

  • What are you reading now?

  • I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m just finishing something in the kitchen.

  • We are studying the writings of Günter Grass on the German course now.

  • She’s staying in the Waldorf Astoria on this visit to New York, isn’t she?

  • I am working in my father's restaurant this month.

  • I’m feeding my neighbour’s cat this week while she’s in hospital.

3) The Present Continuous is used to describe changing or developing situations or trends.

  • The new company is growing steadily.

  • It is getting dark.

  • More and more forests are disappearing because of fires.

  • I am beginning to realize how difficult it is to be a teacher.

4) The Present Continuous is used to express a continual process referring to all or any time. In this case the adverbs always, constantly, ever are used.

  • The sun is ever shining.

  • The earth is always moving.

  • The Volga is for ever pouring its waters into the Caspian Sea.

5) The Present Continuous is used to describe annoying or surprising habits. In this case the adverbs always, constantly, ever are used. There is an element of exaggeration in such sentences as the structure is used to talk about things which happen very often (perhaps more often than expected), and which are unexpected or unplanned.

  • She is always grumbling.

  • They are always holding hands even after fifty years of marriage.

  • The neighbours are forever slamming doors and shouting during the night.

  • Granny’s nice. She’s always giving people little presents.

  • I’m always meeting Mr Bailiff in the supermarket. (accidental, unplanned meetings)

6) The Present Continuous is used in sports commentaries, when the action is in progress throughout the time of speaking. Usually it is used to describe “leisurely sports”, such as rowing, cricket, golf. This is not surprising, since in such sports it is more difficult to see the stages of the match or contest as having no duration.

  • Oxford are rowing well.

  • Morris is running up to bowl.

The Present Continuous is used to denote future actions

1) The Present Continuous is used to express arrangements in the near future (the time of action must be mentioned):

  • What are you doing tonight?

  • I am leaving tomorrow.

  • She’s getting married this spring.

  • We’re having fish for dinner.

2) The Present Continuous is used to denote a future action in progress in adverbial clauses of time and condition.

  • If he is smoking when I am absent I’ll punish him.

  • I’ll ring you up at 2, while you’re having your break.

  • If he’s working when I come, don’t bother him, I’ll wait.

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