Grammar-QuizzesVerb PhrasesVerb Groups › Progressive

Progressives

Express duration or repetition in mixed time frames

Reading news online
 

In Context – Fact-checking the News

Our family has been reading the news online every morning for many years. We read summaries of the news from different websites on our phones or tablets. Sometimes, the news sources cover a wide range of news events. Other times, they just cover the sensational events—"If it bleeds, it leads". 

Yesterday morning, the four of us were reading the same story on different websites: New York Times, the Onion, BBC and Medium. We were commenting on and making jokes about a political scandal involving the President. As we were sharing details from our websites, we realized that the details differed.

We were wondering if we could verify the details. So we decided to fact-check our news articles. First, we eliminated the Onion due to its humorous content. Then, my brother verified his details on PolitiFact.com, I followed up on FactCheck.org, and my sister checked her facts on Snopes.com.

While none of the sources was incorrect, none was fully correct either. What we learned didn't surprise us, but it did present a bigger problem. Without fuller context, the writer cannot give the reader an accurate picture of the situation. However, without more time, the reader cannot give the story the full attention that it deserves.

GLOSSARY

accurate (Adj) – correct, precise

brevity (N) – (1) shortness of time, briefness; (2) expressing something with few words

context (N) – the surrounding text and the information it provides regarding the situation

detail (N) – a small item in particular; a fact or information that is not general

fact-check (V) – use an authoritative site to verify whether something is true or not

 

"if it bleeds, it leads" – journalism that selects headlines based on attention-getting events

involve (V) – include as a necessary part of the plot

news source (NP) – a news agency offerring original reporting of stories and events, from the person or place where it happens; first- or second-hand information

sensational (Adj) – producing a strong effect in order to get intense interest

 

 

Progressive verbs express duration or repetition

NONPROGRESSIVE

A verb in the nonprogressive indicates the action or state takes/took place. Whether or not the action has/had duration or is/was repetitive is not important; it happens/happened . The action may be pinned to a definite) time or it may be timeless (indefinite).

ACTION(S) WITH INDEFINITE TIMING

We read summaries of the news from different websites on our phones or tablets.

Sometimes, the news sources cover a wide range of news events.

Other times, they just cover the sensational events—"If it bleeds, it leads". 

ACTION WITH DEFINITE TIMING

So we decided to fact-check our news articles.

What we learned didn't surprise us, but it did present a bigger problem.

SEQUENCE OF ACTIONS OR IDEAS

First, we eliminated the Onion due to its humorous content. Then, my brother verified his details on PolitiFact.com, I followed up on FactCheck.org, and my sister checked her facts on Snopes.com.

Without fuller context, the writer cannot give the reader an accurate picture of the situation. However, without more time, the reader cannot give the story the full attention that it deserves

STATE —TIMELESS

While none of the our sources was incorrect, none was fully correct either.

 

PROGRESSIVE

A verb in the progressive indicates (1) the duration or repetition of the action or activity; and/or (2) relative timing of one activity to another, for example, as background activity for another activity that is the main focus.                                                                  

ACTION WITH DURATION / REPETITION, INDEFINITE TIMING

My family has been reading the news online every morning for many years.

Duration is expressed by the present perfect, the progressive and the adverb. The timing is not precise, sometime in the past.

ACTION WITH DURATION / REPETITION, DEFINITE TIMING

Yesterday morning, the four of us were reading the same story on different websites: New York Times, Onion, BBC and Medium.

We were commenting and making jokes about a political scandal involving the President.

Duration is expressed by the progressive. The timing is "yesterday".

BACKGROUND ACTIVITY FOR AN ACTION THAT IS THE FOCUS

As we were sharing details from our websites, we realized that the details differed.

Duration is expressed by the progressive "were sharing". The timing for the main focus "realized that the details differed" is a time-relative activity in the background "were sharing".

STATE OF MIND [TEMPORARY]

We were wondering if we could verify the facts.

Duration is expresses by the progressive "were sharing".

 

 

 

 

 

Verbs of Short and Long Duration

Express duration with word meaning

boy catching a ball

 

Detail  vs. Process

DETAIL — SHORTER DURATION

Some verbs express actions that are short, instantaneous, details. They tend to occur as singular actions in the nonprogressive or are reworded with kept (continued) as repetitive actions in the progressive.                                                               

He caught a ball.

*He was catching a ball for a while. [duration]

He kept catching a ball. [repetition]

ask

answer¹

arrive

begin

break

buy

call (call out)

catch

close

drop

end

exit

fall

finish

give

look

meet

open

pay

pick

push

put

stand up

tear

turn on

turn off

wave

PROCESS — LONGER DURATION

Other verbs express activities that are longer in duration or are repetitive. They are more complex, processes. Depending on the meaning¹ of the verb the context, these verbs can occur as nonprogressive or progressive.

He collected balls.

He was collecting balls for a while. [duration]

He was collecting balls at each game. [repetition]

argue

answer

build

carry

come

continue

cry

dress

drink

eat

explain

fight

grow

hope

keep

prepare

rain

read

ride

send

sit

sleep

study

travel

walk

wash

watch

 

*incorrect / ~awkward or borderline usage

¹ Be aware that some words have more than one lexical (dictionary) meaning:   She saw him. (looked)  She saw him. (visited)

Short duration:  He answered my question whenever I asked him something. (responded) 

Long duration:  He was answering his phone whenever I asked him something. (chatting)

Also see and Verb Meaning & Timing and Duration vs Completion (activity v. accomplishment).

 

 

 

 

Situations

Express duration through the context of the clause

 

 

Four Past and Past Progressive Situation Types

PAST SITUATIONS

The duration of a state, action or activity depends on the situation expressed by the verb and the rest of the clause.  Compare these situations: (1) a state [exists through time], (2) achievement [occurs quickly], (3) accomplishment [acts toward an end/goal], (4) activity [action, has duration, is timeless].

1. STATE—EXISTENCE, NO ACTION, NO TIMING

Jack knew everyone in town.  (no adverb)

Jack was always an only-child.   (frequency timing)

Jack was active when he was young.  (relative time)

2. ACHIEVEMENT—MOMENTARY ACTION, ONE POINT IN TIME

Jack crashed his new car. (no adverb)

Jack recognized his stolen car on eBay. 

Jack crashed his new car yesterday.   (specific time)

Jack crashed his new car when he sneezed. (quick relative time)

3. ACCOMPLISHMENT—SEMI-ENDURING ACTION DIRECTED TOWARD AN END

Jack drove his car to the mechanic yesterday.  (specific time)

Jack drove his car to the mechanic when it broke down. (relative time)

Jack drove his car to the mechanic to fix the brakes. (goal)

4. ACTIVITY—ENDURING OR REPETITVE ACTION, NO END TIME

Jack drove his car for years.    (duration-quantity)

Jack drove a taxi during the 1990s. (duration-period)

Jack drove his car to work repeatedly. (repetition)

Jack always drove cars.  (frequency, interval)

PAST PROGRESSIVE SITUATIONS

A verb expressing a meaning of activity—short, long, or repetitive—goes well with the progressive tense.  Adverbs for specific times modify short or long activities. Adverbs for frequency, duration and repetition modify activities that are "timeless" without end times.

1. STATE—EXISTENCE, NO ACTION, NO TIMING

(States cannot be progressive. They have no action. No adverb.)

See Static Verbs.

 

2. ACHIEVEMENT—MOMENTARY ACTION, ONE POINT IN TIME

(Achievements cannot be progressive. They occur instantaneously and at a single point in time. No Adverb.)

*Jack was crashing his new car. 

*Jack was recognizing his stolen car on eBay.

3. ACCOMPLISHMENT—SEMI-ENDURING ACTION DIRECTED TOWARD AN END

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic yesterday.  (specific time)

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic when it broke down. (relative)

Jack was driving his car to the mechanic to fix the brakes. (goal)

4. ACTIVITY—ENDURING OR REPETITVE ACTION, NO END TIME

Jack was driving his car for years.    (duration-quantity)

Jack was driving a taxi during the 1990s. (duration-period)

Jack was driving his car to work repeatedly. (repetition)

Jack was always driving cars.  (frequency, interval)

 

*incorrect / ~awkward or borderline usage

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language classifies verbs into four kinds of situations.  These situations help us understand why and when we use nonprogressive or progressive (aspect), and which adverbs go well with a particular type of situation. [I will try to summarize; however, please see the book for a more accurate description.]

a state — includes a static verb (stative), no action, cannot be progressive, timeless.    See Static Verbs (stative, "state of being").

an achievement — is a single momentary action (quick, punctual) that is almost instantaneous. (An "achievement" sounds like something worth celebrating; however, the meaning here is that the action reaches an end quickly, for example:  He dropped the glass. He fell down. He recognized me. He turned off the light.)

an accomplishment — occurs, endures, and moves toward an endpoint (telic). It often includes a distance, destination, an end point for the activity.  He read three stories to his son. He made it to work on time. He walked a mile to a gas station.  Some verbs include an end point. The ice cream melted.

an activity — occurs, has duration and/or may have repetition, has no terminal point, is "timeless", without direction to an end (atelic).  He reads to his son. He plays basketball. He commutes to work.

(Huddleston 3 §3.2 "Kinds of Situations and Aspectuality)

 

 

 

 

Present Adverbs

Specify the timing of an action or activity

walking
 

 

Present Tense Adverbs — Definite vs. Indefinite Timing

DEFINITE TIMING  "HAPPENING AROUND NOW"

Adverbs with definite timing are used when actions can be marked on a timeline (clock/calendar); they have endpoints/goals. Compare: I am walking to class today. (definite timing, it ends when I arrive at class) to I walk to class. (indefinite timing, "timeless", no endpoint, a routine).

WITH PROGRESSIVE VERBS WITH PROGRESSIVE VERBS

I am walking to class now

*I walk to class now.

I am walking to class today

*I walk to class today.¹

NOW THIS ...

now (just now, right now)

currently (presently)

today / tonight (word origin – this day, this night) 

 

at the moment  (for now, for the time being, for now, at present)

this month  (time not passed: morning, evening, week, semester, this spring, year, decade, century)

as we speak (expression: now)

these moments  (time not passed: weeks, months, semesters, years)

still (with a negative verb: no longer)

Used with progressive.

this Tuesday (June 20, June 20, 2020) (in the current week)

 

 

INDEFINITE TIMING "HAPPENING SOMETIME"

Adverbs with indefinite timing are used when activities or states happen "sometime", not related to a timeline. The precise time is not important. The focus is on the activity or state.  These adverbs express duration (a period of time) or repetition (the interval of occurrence).

BOTH PROGRESSIVE & NON BOTH PROGRESSIVE & NON

I am walking to class temporarily.

I walk to class during the week.

I am walking to class often.

I walk to class often.

DURATION  REPETITION

temporarily(continuously, briefly, momentarily) [imperfective, ongoing] ⇒ Mostly progressive.

repeatedly(constantly, continuously, again and again, perpetually, eternally)⇒ Switch to "keep" with progressive.³

for a moment (ten minutes, a week, a month, for a while², a little while, a day,  forever)  ⇒ Often present perfect.

always (routinely, customarily, usually, in general, normally, often, sometimes, hardly ever, never)

during the week (month, year, etc.) ⇒ Mostly nonprogressive.

at night (noon, midnight, sunset)

in spring (winter, summer, June, July)

from Monday to Tuesday(1 PM to 2 PM, morning to night)

⇒ Mostly nonprogressive.

on Mondays (Tuesday, Sundays, etc.)

most days (nights, weekends, etc.)

while it was warm(a relative time: when, if, whenever, before, after)  before lunch  (after)

every / each / every other day  (hour, day, night, week, month, year, May, spring)

 

¹ adverbs like today or this month include time that is past, present and future. With the present tense, we understand the time to be present, current, now.

"I walk to class today," could also be understood as a scheduled activity. See Scheduled Events—Routine vs. Near Future.

² for a while (PP) – can be understood in two ways: (1) having some amount of duration, or (2) being very temporary

³ keep + verb+ing – Repetition can be expressed by using the "keep" (I keep walking.  He kept smiling.)  The progressive with "repeatedly" (*I am walking to class repeatedly. )sounds awkward.

Specific adverbial pages: Frequency Adverbs| Preps for Time—In v. On v. At | During v. In | For-Since

Related tense pages:   Past vs. Progressive | Present vs. Present Perfect Progressive | Future vs. Future Progressive (will)

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Focus and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

I worked there since a year ago.

*I was attending classes several times.  

~He was catching the ball for a while.

 

Where were you finding that?

ERROR

I worked there a year ago. (indefinite time)

I was working there for a year. (defined period)

I attended classes several times.   (repeated activity)

I kept / continued attending classes. (repeated activity)

He kept catching the ball.   (repeated activity "continued")

He was playing catch for a while.   (repeated activity "continued")

Where did you find that?  Progressive is not used for question about source, material or origin.

See Reporting Source or Emotional Impact.

 

 

Works Cited

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Hample, Zack. Baseball collection. Wikimedia Commons, 2016. zackhample.com. CC0.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.

 

 

 

Practice

A Traditional Art

bread making
 

Read the Context

Last year, Tom [retire]. He [wonder] what he [do} one year from then. He never [imagine] that he [bake] bread. In fact, he [work] on a particular goal—baking a traditional loaf of sourdough bread. And now he [can say] with certainty, it [be] not so easy to bake a loaf of bread with a crunchy, dark-brown crust and a tasty interior.

This month, Tom started his search for the best ingredients. While good bread flour [be] easy to find, the sourdough "starter" was not. He had to make it from scratch, and it [require] a few days to raise. In fact, "raise" is an amusing word because he [feeding] the starter for a week. It [fermenti], bubbling, and giving off a strong aroma. Everyday, he [remove] half of it and [put in more flour and water. Four days later, the "beast", which [out-grow] its container, was ready to use in a sour-dough recipe. 

After combining the starter, flour, water, salt and yeast, Tom rolled the dough onto the kitchen counter. As he [knead] the dough with his hands, he [think] about the century-old bread making activity. "How long have our ancestors worked dough with their hands? How ___ they [discover] that yeast would raise dough into a light, airy loaf of bread? How ___ they [decide] on the final shape—round, square, long, or braided?" He was pleased that he [learni] to do what bread makers had done for centuries.

Tom [set] the ball of dough into a bowl on the window sill. It [rise] for an hour. Then he [move] it to a stone surface in the hot oven, [spray] the interior walls with water, and [shut] the door. Forty minutes later his bread [be] ready—brown and crusty outside, tender and delicious inside.

GLOSSARY

aroma (N) – a strong pleasant smell given off by food

braid (N) – a shape made by weaving three lengths (dough, hair, rope) into one

combine (V) – mix, put together

craft (N) – an art, trade or occupation requiring special skill in order to do it well

crunchy (Adj) – a sound made when teeth bite into a crisp apple or toasted nuts

crust (N)  – exterior surface of bread

dough (N) – a mixture of flour, liquid and other things that make bread, cakes, muffins, pies, etc.

ferment (V) – the process by which starch or sugar is changed to alcohol

ingredient (N) – an item that is part of a food recipe (bread: flour, water, salt, yeast)

knead (V) – pressing, folding and stretching dough on a surface repeatedly

 

 

loaf (N)  – a quantifier for bread; a bread size larger than a bun (single size)

make it from scratch (expr.) – begin with basic ingredients; no "store bought" food

out-grow (V) – become too large for clothing, a container, an environment, etc.

recipe (N) – instructions for making a particular food item or dish.

sill (N) – the flat shelf at the bottom of a window

raise (V) – a baker raises dough with yeast  (a transitive verb)

rise (V) – the bread rises  (an intransitive verb) See Rise-Raise.

sourdough (N) – a type of dough with a strong, aged, fermented flavor

starter (N) – a yeast and flour mixture with some bacteria culture (sour dough)

yeast (N) – a single celled micro-organism  (fungus) used in the fermentation process of beer, bread dough and other foods

 

 

 

Past Progressive or Nonprogressive?

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

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"Love is Like a Sour Dough Starter—It can Last Forever, or Get Super Weird Smelly." By Sophie Lucido Johnson. Bon Appétit, 13 Feb. 2018. bonappetit.com/story/sourdough-starter-love-letter