Writing Wednesday: What is Progressive Form?

We all know about the three main verb tenses: present, past, and future. Some of us even know about the three “perfect tenses”: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect. However, I’ve seen a lot of talk online about progressive forms of verbs lately. These are  verbs that use a form of “to be” as a helping verb and then tack -ing onto the main verb.

Here are the six progressive forms of verbs:

  • Present Progressive, such as “I am writing a new blog post.”
  • Past Progressive, such as “I was grading papers when the phone rang.”
  • Future Progressive, such as “I will be collecting those later.”
  • Present Perfect Progressive, such as “I have been studying writing for many years.”
  • Past Perfect Progressive, such as “I had been working on a story when a new idea occurred to me.”
  • Future Perfect Progressive, such as “I will have been typing this essay for two hours by the time you get home.”

In an effort to be helpful, some writers mistakenly tell others to avoid -ing verbs. While I just spent a good hour or two deleting some unnecessary -ing verbs from my students’ essays, sometimes we really need them.

How do you know when to keep the -ing verbs and when to skip them? Think of the word “progessive.” Notice how it has the word “progress” in it. Use progressive forms when you are talking about something that is in progress. For example, “Currently, they are tallying the votes.”

Do not use progressive forms when the action isn’t “in progress.” Don’t say, “When you put the cake in the oven, it is rising in the oven.” (Believe it or not, I’ve seen sentences like this.) Instead, use the sentence: “After you put the cake in the oven, it should rise.”

One of my linguistics professors bemoaned the McDonald’s slogan, “I’m lovin’ it.” Why do they use the progressive form am loving? There’s no need. You’re not in the middle of the process of loving them. You simply love McDonald’s, so just say, “I love it!”

To make matters more confusing, not all -ing words are even verbs. Some are participles and others are gerunds, but I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

photo credit: ggrosseck via photopin cc

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