The continuous aspect is expressed with the auxiliary be and the present participle –ing form of the verb. Depending on the time of the action, we use the past, present, future or modal+form of be.
The continuous aspect focuses on the duration of an event. It expresses that the action was, is or will be in progress at a specific point of time or over a period of time. The point of time may be defined by a time expression (now, at 5 o’clock yesterday, this time tomorrow) or a clause (when I came home, when I come home). For the period of time, we can also use a time expression (all day yesterday) or a clause (while she was reading).
When do we use the continuous aspect?
We use it to talk about:
Actions that we see happening over a period of time. E.g. I have been playing the piano since 2000.
Actions in progress when another thing happens. E.g. She will be cleaning the house when Christian gets home.
Temporary or incomplete situations. E.g. He’s studying for his final exams at university so he is very busy.
Repeated actions (that may be annoying). E.g. Why are you continually criticising?
Situations in the process of changing. E.g. Spanish employment is getting worse.
Plans (often using the past continuous). E.g. I was going to phone but I forgot.
Tentative ideas (to avoid being too direct with a request). E.g. I am hoping to borrow some money.
- (of an arrangement, agreement, etc.) not definite or certain because you may want to change it later. E.g. We made a tentative arrangement to meet on Friday. Tentative conclusions
- not behaving or done with confidence. Hesitant. E.g. a tentative greeting. Her English is correct but tentative. I'm taking the first tentative steps towards fitness.
Actions in progress at a particular time. E.g. At 5 o’clock, I was sitting on the bus
Verbs which do not take a continuous aspect in English
There are verbs in English which generally are not used in the continuous aspect:
· - verbs of the senses (verbs of perception): see, hear, smell, taste, notice, recognize, etc.
I smell gas.
· - verbs of thinking: think, realize, know, understand, suppose, expect, remember, forget, mind, etc.
I don’t remember your name.
· - verbs of having and being: have, own, owe, belong to, possess, be, contain, matter, hold, etc.
The house belongs to my mother.
· - verbs of emotion: love, hate, like, dislike, refuse, want, wish, forgive, etc.
I hate people calling me late at night.