What is the Progressive Verb Tense? - Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:00 Verbs And Tense
  • 1:25 Progressive Tense
  • 2:40 Present Progressive
  • 3:20 Past Progressive
  • 4:10 Future Progressive
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

You've probably heard of past, present and future tense, but do you know there's a progressive tense? This lesson outlines the progressive tense and its use in our language.

Verbs and Tense

Verbs are very important in language. Verbs, words that express action or conditions, are essential for communication. You can name all the nouns you want, but without verbs, you don't know what those nouns are doing!

Before we can get into progressive tense, we should review several things. Verbs that express physical action, like jump, run, and throw, are fairly easy to identify. However, remember that verbal actions include mental actions in addition to physical ones. So, words like think and dream are action verbs, too, even though you can't see the action. Verbs that show condition are called linking verbs and include all the forms of to be, among others. For now, we're focusing on to be.

Every type of verb is important because verbs show what nouns are doing, but they also serve another function, that of tense, or time reference. Verbs change forms to indicate a tense, which tells the listener when the action occurred. The three simple tenses are past tense, meaning the action was completed in the past, present tense, meaning the action occurs now, and future tense, meaning the action will occur. Tenses are very important because they show the sequence of events. Changing a future event to a past event can change the whole timeline. Just ask Marty McFly about his trip back to the future!

Progressive Tense

Now that we have reviewed verbs and the three basic tenses, we can discuss the progressive tenses, which show action in progress. Let's use an example to illustrate this. Try to explain the difference between these two sentences:

  • I run every day.
  • I am running today.

The action is the same for both, as are the nouns. The difference occurs in the tenses. The first sentence is in present tense and it shows the action is habitually happening each day. On the other hand, the second sentence indicates that the person is currently performing the action; the running is in progress. Therefore, this is the progressive tense.

To form the progressive tense, you need to add the correct form of to be in front of the -ing form of the verb. In the example above, 'am running' has am, a form of to be, and the -ing verb running. Progressive tense is important because it helps make the sequence of events clear and specific. Some actions are not simple; thus, you need to show the complexities of when and how events occur. There are three types of progressive tense: present progressive, past progressive and future progressive.

Present Progressive

The present progressive tense shows actions or conditions that are in progress now. Here are two examples:

  • I am running today.
  • The frogs are jumping.

Both of these include the present form of to be, am and are, which match the singular I and the plural frogs. Then the -ing form of the verb follows those. These two sentences show that the actions are occurring in the present day and are in progress. Present progressive tense can help construct a timeline by showing one action occurring while another happens. This sentence has two examples of present progressive tense showing two actions in progress:

  • The frogs are jumping while I am fishing in the pond.

Past Progressive

The second type of progressive is past progressive tense, which shows actions or conditions that were in progress in the past. Look at these examples:

  • I was running yesterday.
  • The frogs were jumping.

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