Introduction to Tenses: Continuous Actions

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Continuity of actions

Continuity shows progression of actions or states. An action in progress is continuous.

When we came, she was singing. (when we came, there was an action in progress)


When (after) we came, she left

When we came, there was no action in progress.


When we came, she was leaving. (When we came, there was an action in progress)

We are singing now (there is an action in progress)

We sing and dance every day (there is no action in progress)

Continuous actions at a period of time around a precise moment in time.

Basically, in progress means at a given period of time. It can be now, then, at this moment, at that moment, after 2 minutes, tomorrow at 5, on Thursday between 7 and 9 pm etc.

tomorrow at 5 pm I will be working on a project.

I call it period of time around a precise moment in time. We may use less explicit time periods like tomorrow, next week, next month and even next year. The same applies to the past and the present. Last / this year, last / this month, yesterday / today

Last year he was working on another project. This year he is working on this project.

Continuity of states

Let me talk about states in progress.

You are being naughty. (a state of being naughty is in progress)

A little tricky example.

When we came, she was pale.

Here, the verb be is not in the continuous form. Although we might think that her state was in progress, we don’t want to stress on this progress. We just want to state the fact that her face was pale.

He was naughty. (no state in progress, just the fact)

He was being naughty. (there is a state in progress. We want to stress on the progress. Usually, he is not naughty, but at that time he was.)

Continuous actions using continuous tenses

We normally express continuity of actions by using continuous / progressive tenses. The verb takes the ing ending. We apply other rules of tense formation there.

So, as I have figured it out, continuity of an action, in light of tense formation, has 2 key aspects.

1. Action in progress 2. a period of time in the frame of which this action takes place.

This period of time can be really long.

I have done this for ages. We have worked here for 10 years.

Or it can be short.

I have been standing here for 5 minutes.

Or this period of time can be so short that it shrinks to a point in time, like now, then, at 5 pm etc., however the period of time is still there in an implicit way “around that point in time,” we figure out the approximate duration from the context, or duration is not important, and we don’t even think about it. It’s clear there is a duration of time filed with an action, thus, this action becomes continuous, ongoing.

We are singing now. They were dancing in the hall at 5 pm. We will be dancing at the presentation at 5 pm tomorrow.

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