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The continuous and progressive aspects (abbreviated CONT and PROG) are grammatical aspects that express incomplete action ("to do") or state ("to be") in progress at a specific time: they are non-habitual, imperfective aspects.

In the grammars of many languages the two terms are used interchangeably. This is also the case with English: a construction such as "He is washing" may be described either as present continuous or as present progressive. However, there are certain languages for which two different aspects are distinguished. In Chinese, for example, progressive aspect denotes a current action, as in "he is getting dressed", while continuous aspect denotes a current state, as in "he is wearing fine clothes".

As with other grammatical categories, the precise semantics of the aspects vary from language to language, and from grammarian to grammarian. For example, some grammars of Turkish count the -iyor form as a present tense;[1] some as a progressive tense;[2] and some as both a continuous (nonhabitual imperfective) and a progressive (continuous non-stative) aspect.[3]

Continuous versus progressive

The Past Continuous Tense (Şimdiki Zaman Hikâyesi) in Turkish.[4][5]

The progressive aspect expresses the dynamic quality of actions that are in progress while the continuous aspect expresses the state of the subject that is continuing the action. For instance, "Tom is reading" can express dynamic activity: "Tom is reading a book" – i.e. right now (progressive aspect), or Tom's current state: "Tom is reading for a degree" – i.e. Tom is a student (continuous aspect). The aspect can often be ambiguous; "Tom is reading Ulysses" may describe his current activity (it's in his hand), or the state of having started, but not yet finished, the book (it's in his bag).

Continuous and progressive in various languages

Unless otherwise indicated, the following languages treat continuous and progressive aspects the same, in which case the term continuous is used to refer to both.


Main article: Present continuous (English)


See also: Uses of English verb forms § Present progressive

The continuous aspect is constructed by using a form of the copula, "to be", together with the present participle (marked with the suffix -ing).[6] It is generally used for actions that are occurring at the time in question, and does not focus on the larger time-scale. For example, the sentence "Andrew was playing tennis when Jane called him." indicates what Andrew was doing when Jane called him, but does not indicate for how long Andrew played, nor how often he plays; for that, the simple past would suffice: "Andrew played tennis three hours every day for several years."

Salikoko Mufwene[7]: pp.35–36  contrasts the effect of the progressive form on the meanings of action verbs versus those of lexically stative verbs:

  1. [I]t converts events expected to be punctual into longer-lasting, even if transient, states of affairs [e.g., "Nancy is writing a letter"];
  2. it [con]versely converts those states of affairs expected to last long (lexical statives) to shorter-lasting / transient states of affairs [e.g., "Tom is living with us"]; and
  3. it simply presents those verbs whose denotations are neutral with regard to duration as in process / in (transient) duration [e.g., "The wall is cracking"], though duration is most expected of statives.


The progressive aspect in English likely arose from two constructions that were used fairly rarely in Old and Early Middle English. The first used a form of beon/wesan (to be/to become) with a present participle (-ende).[8] This construction has an analogous form in Dutch (see below).[9] The second used beon/wesan, a preposition, and a gerund (-unge), and has been variously proposed as being influenced by similar forms in Latin and French[10] or British Celtic, though evidence one way or another is scant.[11] Over the course of the Middle English period, sound shifts in the language meant that the (-ende) participle ending and the (-unge) gerund ending merged into a new ending, (-ing). This change, which was complete in southern England around the late fifteenth century and spread north from there, rendered participles and gerunds indistinguishable. It is at this point that a sudden increase in the use of progressive forms is visible, though they would not take their current form until the eighteenth century.[12][13] Linguist Herbert Schendl has concluded that "with this feature, a polygenetic origin ... seems attractive, and at least the further extension of the progressive is a language-internal development."[14]


In the Amazigh language, past continuous is formed by using the fixed participle ttugha (original meaning: I forgot); ttugha is added before the verb that is in the present tense. So we have:

Ntta itari: he writes / he is writing

Ntta ttugha itari: he was writing

Present continuous is usually the same as the present tense. But in the Riff variety of Berber, the participle aqqa is added before the verb to form present continuous.


Chinese is one family of languages that makes a distinction between the continuous and progressive aspects.


Cantonese has a very regular system for expressing aspects via verb suffixes. is typically used to express progressive aspect while is used to express continuous aspect. Take the following example:

Cantonese(Literal English) English Translation
Progressive (I) (wear) (PROG) (clothes) (.) I am putting on clothes.
Continuous (I) (wear) (CONT) (clothes) (.) I am wearing clothes.

In the example, the progressive aspect expresses the fact that the subject is actively putting on clothes rather than merely wearing them as in the continuous aspect. This example is useful for showing English speakers the difference between continuous and progressive because "wearing" in English never conveys the progressive aspect. (Instead, "putting on" must be used).

In Cantonese, the progressive marker can express the continuous aspect as well, depending on the context (so the example above could also mean "I'm wearing clothes" in addition to "I'm putting on clothes"), but in general, the progressive aspect is assumed. In order to emphasize the progressive aspect rather than the continuous, 喺度 (literally meaning "at here") can be used in front of the verb:

(I) 喺度(at here) (wear) (PROG) (clothes) (.)

喺度 can also be used without to indicate the progressive aspect.


Unlike Cantonese, Mandarin does not have a verb suffix for expressing the progressive aspect, but it can use the pre-verbal auxiliary zhèngzài 正在 (or just ), similar to how Cantonese uses 喺度 in front of the verb. The continuous aspect does have a verb suffix, / zhe, which is cognate with the Cantonese in this context.

Mandarin(Literal English) English Translation
Progressive (I) 正在(right now) 穿(wear) 衣服(clothes) (.) I am putting on clothes.
Continuous (I) 穿(wear) (CONT) 衣服(clothes) (.) I am wearing clothes.

For more information see Chinese grammar § Aspects.


Danish has several ways of constructing continuous aspect.


The continuous aspect is commonly used in Dutch, though not as often as in English. There are various methods of forming a continuous:


French does not have a continuous aspect per se; events that English would describe using its continuous aspect, French would describe using a neutral aspect. Many express what they are doing in French by just using the present tense. That being said, French can express a continuous sense using the periphrastic construction être en train de ("to be in the middle of") followed by a simple infinitive; for example, English's "we were eating" might be expressed in French either as nous étions en train de manger (literally "we were in the middle of eating"), or as simply nous mangions ("we ate").

An exception is in relating events that took place in the past: the imperfect (or imparfait) has a continuous aspect in relation to the simple (historic) past (or passé simple); e.g. nous mangions quand il frappa à la porte ("we were eating when he knocked at the door"). However, the compound past (passé composé) is more often used to denote past events with a neutral aspect in a non-narrative context.

It is also possible to use the present participle (or participe présent) as a gerund (or gérondif) in relation to the tense of the opposed verb, e.g. Nous mangeant, il frappait à la porte, opposed here to the imperfect but the simple past is also possible, e.g. nous mangeant, il frappa à la porte. In such construction (used without any leading preposition en), the required subject for the gerund verb takes the indirect form when it is a pronoun allowing such distinction, so the normal subjects je/tu/il/ils are changed to moi/toi/lui/eux, e.g. Moi mangeant... instead of Je mangeant..., but Nous mangeant...

If the subject of the gerund is the same as the opposed verb conjugated at any other tense, it is omitted in the progressive gerund, but implied by the preposition en, e.g. en mangeant et nous discutant, il ne nous écoute pas ("while eating and while we are discussing, he doesn't listen to us"). The preposition en may be omitted if the gerund has an implied subject and takes an object which is not a pronoun; in that case the object may be prefixed before the gerund verb (and its possessive may be omitted when it refers to that implied subject), e.g. Chemin faisant, il ne pense à rien (lit. "Path making," i.e. "While making his path", "he doesn't think about anything").

Quebec French often expresses a continuous sense using the periphrastic construction être après (lit. "to be after") followed by a simple infinitive; for example, English's "we were eating" might be expressed in Quebec French either as simply nous mangions with the imperfect (imparfait) like in France, or as nous étions après manger; but in France, this could be confusively understood as a discontinuous past (lit. "we were after having eaten", i.e. nous avions mangé "we had eaten"), especially in colloquial oral speech, as if the past infinitive (more commonly used with the preposition après) was changed into a simple infinitive with the omitted auxiliary.


Formed exactly as in Rhenish German, Jèrriais constructs the continuous with verb êt' (be) + à (preposition) + infinitive. For example, j'têmes à mangi translates as we were eating.


There is no continuous aspect in standard German. The aspect can be expressed with gerade (just now, at the moment) as in er liest gerade meaning he is reading. Certain regional dialects, such as those of the Rhineland, the Ruhr Area, and Westphalia, form a continuous aspect using the verb sein (to be), the inflected preposition am or beim (at the or on the), and the neuter noun that is formed from an infinitive. This construction was likely borrowed from Low German or Dutch which use the exact construction to convey the same meaning. For example, ich bin am Lesen, ich bin beim Lesen (literally I am on/at the reading) means I am reading. Known as the rheinische Verlaufsform (roughly Rhenish progressive form), it has become increasingly common in the casual speech of many speakers around Germany through popular media and music, although it is still frowned upon in formal and literary contexts.[15] In Southern Austro-Bavarian, the aspect can be expressed using tun (to do) as an auxiliary with the infinitive of the verb as in er tut lesen for he is reading (cf. English he does reading).


In Hawaiian, the present tense progressive aspect form ke + verb + nei is very frequently used.


Main article: Hindi verbs § Aspects

Hindi-Urdu (Hindustani) has distinct constructions to convey progressive and continuous actions. Progressive actions are marked through the progressive aspect participle rahā used along with the verb root, while the continuous action is conveyed through the perfective adjectival participle which is constructed by conjugating the verb into its perfective aspect participle and combining it with the perfective aspect participle of the verb honā (to be), which is huā.[16]

Hindi Urdu Transliteration Translation
1a बैठ रहा है بیٹھ رہا ہے baiṭh rahā hai He is sitting. (nuanceː he is in the process of sitting)
1b बैठा हुआ है بیٹھا ہوا ہے baiṭhā huā hai He is sitting. (nuanceː he is already sitting)
2a शर्ट पहन रही हूँ شرط پھن رہی ہوں śarṭ pêhên rahī hū̃ I am wearing a shirt. (nuanceː I am in the process of wearing a shirt)
2b शर्ट पहनी हुई हूँ شرط پہنی ہی ہوں śarṭ pêhnī huī hū̃ I am wearing a shirt. (nuanceː I am already wearing a shirt)


Icelandic possesses a present continuous aspect much like that found in English. This feature is unique among the Scandinavian languages. It is formed with the copula vera (to be) + (infinitive marker) + infinite verb. Its usage differs slightly from English, as it generally cannot be used in static contexts, for example standing or sitting, but rather to describe specific activities. The following examples illustrate this phenomenon.

Ég er að borða eplið.
I'm eating the apple.

In contrast with:

Ég stend á borðinu.
I'm standing on the table.

In the second example, the simple present tense is used as it describes a state, standing on the table. The construction *ég er að standa á borðinu is incorrect[clarification needed] in Icelandic. In addition this method of constructing the continuous present there exists a second method akin to the one which exists in the other Scandinavian languages, where a present participle ending in -andi is used along with the copula vera. This is a way of using the present participle that is analysed as more adjectival or adverbial than verbal, as it cannot be used with transitive verbs. With certain verbs it also has a frequentative implication, as in the following example:

Ég er gangandi í skóla.
I walk to school (regularly).

Technically the use of the present participle is often not an example of continuous aspect in Icelandic.


Italian forms a progressive aspect in much the same way as in Spanish, using a conjugated form of the auxiliary verb stare ("to stay") followed by the gerund of the main verb. There are only two forms of gerunds, the choice depending upon the ending of the main verb in the infinitive: -ando for verbs whose infinitive ends in -are (parlare/parlando, mangiare/mangiando) or -endo if the infinitive ends in -ere or -ire (leggere/leggendo, dormire/dormendo). Thus 'I am speaking/reading/sleeping' is expressed Sto parlando/leggendo/dormendo.

Present tense

The present tense and the present progressive can have distinct meanings in Italian. Both can be used for present-time actions in progress: parlo con Mario and sto parlando con Mario can both mean 'I'm speaking with Mario (this moment, right now)', but only the bare present can be used to express ongoing state, as in parlo inglese 'I speak English', i.e. to convey the information 'I am able to speak English' (regardless of what I am doing at the time of speaking). Thus the present progressive clarifies immediacy: Sto uscendo 'I'm leaving (just now; on my way out)'.

The present continuous is formed by using the present tense of the verb stare + the gerund. As in English, the gerund conveys the main meaning of the utterance: sto pattinando (skating), I am skating. For the regular verbs, the gerund is formed from the infinitive of the verb by taking the stem and attaching the appropriate gerund suffix: -are verbs take -ando and the -ere and -ire verbs both take -endo. The table shows the conjugations of stare in the present tense with a gerund to exemplify the present continuous:

person avere essere parlare credere finire dire opporre
io sto avendo sto essendo sto parlando sto credendo sto finendo sto dicendo sto opponendo
tu stai avendo stai essendo stai parlando stai credendo stai finendo stai dicendo stai opponendo
egli/ella sta avendo sta essendo sta parlando sta credendo sta finendo sta dicendo sta opponendo
noi stiamo avendo stiamo essendo stiamo parlando stiamo credendo stiamo finendo stiamo dicendo stiamo opponendo
voi state avendo state essendo state parlando state credendo state finendo state dicendo state opponendo
essi/esse stanno avendo stanno essendo stanno parlando stanno credendo stanno finendo stanno dicendo stanno opponendo

The present continuous tense has a very predictable conjugation pattern even for verbs that are typically irregular, such as essere ("to be") and avere ("to have"). For verbs with reduced infinitives, the gerund uses the same stem as the imperfect (which sometimes corresponds to the stem of the 1st person singular indicative present).

infinitive 1st sing. present 1st sing. imperfect gerund
dire dico dicevo dicendo
bere bevo bevevo bevendo
fare faccio facevo facendo
porre pongo ponevo ponendo

Past tense

To form the past progressive, stare is conjugated in the imperfect and used with the gerund. For example, while sto andando means "I am going", stavo andando expresses I was going. In conventional Italian speaking, stavo andando and imperfect andavo are mostly interchangeable in the progressive meaning (stavo andando/andavo in ospedale... 'I was going [i.e. on my way] to the hospital...'), whereas past habitual "I used to go", "I went (often, repeatedly)" is expressible only with the imperfect andavo.

Conjugations of the Past Progressive:

person avere essere parlare credere finire dire opporre
io stavo avendo stavo essendo stavo parlando stavo credendo stavo finendo stavo dicendo stavo opponendo
tu stavi avendo stavi essendo stavi parlando stavi credendo stavi finendo stavi dicendo stavi opponendo
lui/lei stava avendo stava essendo stava parlando stava credendo stava finendo stava dicendo stava opponendo
noi stavamo avendo stavamo essendo stavamo parlando stavamo credendo stavamo finendo stavamo dicendo stavamo opponendo
voi stavate avendo stavate essendo stavate parlando stavate credendo stavate finendo stavate dicendo stavate opponendo
loro stavano avendo stavano essendo stavano parlando stavano credendo stavano finendo stavano dicendo stavano opponendo

Like the present progressive, the Italian past progressive is extremely regular. Forms of stare are those common to -are verbs in the imperfect (stare/stavo, parlare/parlavo, etc.).

There is no readily available means in Italian for expressing the distinction between English "We were reading" and "We have been reading."


Standard Japanese uses the same grammar form to form the progressive and the continuous aspect, specifically by using the -te iru form of a verb. Depending on the transitivity of the verb, they are interpreted as either progressive or continuous. For example:


Pen ga kaban ni haitte iru.
The pen is in the bag (continuous).


Kare wa ban-gohan o tabeteiru.
He is eating dinner (progressive).
Kare wa pen o kaban ni irete iru.
He is putting the pen in the bag (resultative). – this is usually understood to be resultative state as in "he keeps the pen in the bag" but can syntactically be interpreted as progressive, however this is highly strange and pragmatically incorrect.

Some dialects such as Chūgoku dialect and Shikoku dialect have different grammar forms for the progressive and the continuous aspect; the -toru form for the progressive and the -yoru form for the continuous. For example:


Sakura no hana ga chittoru.
The cherry blossoms have fallen.


Sakura no hana ga chiriyoru.
The cherry blossoms are falling.


In Portuguese the continuous aspect is marked by gerund, either by a proper -ndo ending (common in Brazil and Alentejo) or a (to) and the infinitive (gerundive infinitive – the standard form in most of Portugal); for example to be doing would be either estar a fazer or, similar to other Romance languages, estar fazendo.


Quechua uses a specific suffix: -chka or -ykaa; which is directly attached before the conjugation suffixes. Although the continuous aspect in Quechua is similar to that of English, it is more used than the simple tenses and is commonly translated into them (simple present and past), because of the idea that actions are not instantaneous, but they have a specific duration (mikuni [I eat] and mikuchkani [I am eating] are both correct, but it is preferred to use mikuchkani because we do no eat in a second).

Slavic languages

Main article: Grammatical aspect in Slavic languages

In Slavic languages, there is a clear distinction between perfective and imperfective grammatical aspects in the verb stem, with the latter emphasizing that the action is, was or will be in progress (habitual or otherwise). It was in relation to these languages that the modern concept of grammatical aspect in general originally developed. The majority of verbs in Slavic languages have at least one complementary verb for both aspects – e.g. Czech koupit (perfective; done on a single occasion) and kupovat (imperfective; done over a longer period of time) which translates as "to buy" and "be buying" respectively.

Perfective verbs are commonly formed from imperfective ones by the addition of a prefix; conversely the imperfective verb can be formed from the perfective one by modification of the stem or ending. Suppletion also plays a small role. Perfective verbs generally cannot be used with the meaning of a present tense – their present-tense forms in fact have future reference. An example of such a pair of verbs, from Polish, is given below:

In at least the East and West Slavic languages, there is a three-way aspect differentiation for verbs of motion, with two forms of imperfective, determinate and indeterminate, and one form of perfective. The two forms of imperfective can be used in all three tenses (past, present, and future), but the perfective can only be used with past and future. The indeterminate imperfective expresses habitual aspect (or motion in no single direction), while the determinate imperfective expresses progressive aspect. The difference corresponds closely to that between English "I (regularly) go to school" and "I am going to school (now)". The three-way difference is given below for the Russian basic (unprefixed) verbs of motion. When prefixes are attached to Russian verbs of motion, they become more or less normal imperfective/perfective pairs, although the prefixes are generally attached to the indeterminate imperfective to form the prefixed imperfective and to the determinate imperfective to form the prefixed perfective. For example, prefix при- + indeterminate ходи́ть = приходи́ть; and prefix при- + determinate идти́ = прийти (to arrive (on foot)).


In Spanish, the continuous is constructed much as in English, using a conjugated form of estar (to be) plus the gerundio (gerund/gerundive/adverbial participle) of the main verb; for example, estar haciendo means to be doing (haciendo being the gerundio of hacer, to do).

Like English, Spanish also has a few related constructions with similar structures and related meanings; for example, seguir haciendo means to keep doing (seguir being to continue).

Conjugations of the Present Progressive in Spanish:

person estar (to be) hablar (to talk) creer (to believe) terminar (to finish) decir (to say) trabajar (to work)
yo estoy estoy hablando estoy creyendo estoy terminando estoy diciendo estoy trabajando
estás estás hablando estás creyendo estás terminando estás diciendo estás trabajando
usted está está hablando está creyendo está terminando está diciendo está trabajando
él/ella está está hablando está creyendo está terminando está diciendo está trabajando
nosotros estamos estamos hablando estamos creyendo estamos terminando estamos diciendo estamos trabajando
ustedes están están hablando están creyendo están terminando están diciendo están trabajando
ellos están están hablando están creyendo están terminando están diciendo están trabajando


Swedish has several ways of constructing continuous aspect.

See also



  1. ^ G.L. Lewis, Turkish Grammar
  2. ^ Robert Underhill, Turkish Grammar
  3. ^ Jaklin Kornfilt, Turkish
  4. ^ The Past Continuous Tense (Şimdiki Zamanın Hikâyesi)
  5. ^ The Past Continuous Tense (Şimdiki Zaman Hikâyesi) in Turkish.
  6. ^ §42.5, p. 368, A university course in English grammar, by Angela Downing and Philip Locke, reprint ed., Psychology Press, 2002, ISBN 0-415-28810-X.
  7. ^ Mufwene, Salikoko S., Stativity and the Progressive, Indiana Univ. Linguistics Club, 1984.
  8. ^ Lamont, George (2005), The Progress of English Verb Tenses and the English Progressive
  9. ^ Hoeksma, Jack, Verb Movement in Dutch Present Participle Clauses
  10. ^ Mustanoja, Tauno (1960), A Middle English Syntax, pp. 572–585
  11. ^ Killie, Kirstin (2012), Old English-Late British language contact and the English progressive
  12. ^ Elsness, Johann (1994), On the progression of the progressive in Early Modern English
  13. ^ Alexiadou, Artemis (2013), Nominal vs. Verbal -ing Constructions and the Development of the English Progressive
  14. ^ Schendl, Herbert (2012), Middle English: Language Contact
  15. ^ The colloquial 'rheinische Verlaufsform' is covered in an amusing article by Bastian Sick, see,1518,350958,00.html
  16. ^ VAN OLPHEN, HERMAN (1975). "Aspect, Tense, and Mood in the Hindi Verb". Indo-Iranian Journal. 16 (4): 284–301. doi:10.1163/000000075791615397. ISSN 0019-7246. JSTOR 24651488. S2CID 161530848.