Progressive forms
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Progressive Forms. Lecture 14. The Progressive Aspect. The progressive aspect allows us to present an event in different ways: as unfolding in time (progressive VP, i.e. marked for progressive aspect) or as completed (non-progressive VP, i.e. not marked for progressive aspect).

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Progressive Forms

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Progressive forms

Progressive Forms

Lecture 14


The progressive aspect

The Progressive Aspect

  • The progressive aspect allows us to present an event in different ways:

  • as unfolding in time (progressive VP, i.e. marked for progressive aspect) or

  • as completed (non-progressive VP, i.e. not marked for progressive aspect).

  • The marking for progressive aspect consists of a form of be + the suffix -ing added to the next verb in the VP. 

  • Do not confuse this with the use of -ing forms in non-finite clauses or as modifiers.


A progressive verb form vs a non progressive or simple verb form

A progressive verb form vs. a non-progressive (or simple) verb form:  


Types of verb dynamic verbs and state verbs

Types of verb - dynamic verbs and state verbs


Dynamic verbs the progressive form represents the middle phase of the action

Dynamic verbs - the progressive form represents the middle phase of the action

She wrote a letter.vs.She was writing a letter.

The progressive aspect brings different types of meaning to different types of dynamic verbs:

A. Durative action verbs: sing, swim, write. Progressive  'temporary, ongoing action'

John sings well. vs. John is singing in the shower.

B. Momentary action verbs: knock, kick, nod. Progressive  'repeated momentary action'

Someone is knocking on the door.


Dynamic verbs

Dynamic verbs

C. Transitional event verbs: break, die, drown, stop.

Progressive  'approach to transition'

The old man was dying. vs. The old man died.

D. Process verbs: become, change, get, grow, weaken.

Progressive  'on-going process'

It was getting dark. vs. It got dark.


Potentially variable states

Potentially variable states

A. Verbs of position: sit, stand, lie, stay, live

  Progressive  'temporary situation'

She was sitting on the sofa. vs. She always sits in that corner.

B. Bodily sensation verbs: ache, hurt, itch, tingle

  Progressive  'temporary situation'

My head is aching. vs. My head aches whenever I read Kafka.


State verbs

State verbs

  • A. Verbs of perception: see, hear, feel, taste, smell

  • B. Intellectual/emotional states: know, remember, believe, forget, admire, appreciate

  • C. Physical and abstract relationships: be (tall, old, ...), remain; have, own, possess; belong to, contain; become, fit, suit; mean, equal; cost, weigh; differ from, resemble; concern, involve


Complications with state verbs

Complications with state verbs:

1. homonymous dynamic verb forms:

He saw the car coming. (stative: 'perceive visually')

He was seeing her to the airport. (dynamic: 'accompany')

The doctor is seeing another patient. (dynamic: 'admit for consultation')

Do you think that's true? (stative: 'believe')

Are you thinking of leaving? (dynamic: 'plan', 'consider')

The soup smells good. (stative: 'emit smell')

The guests smelt the burning toast. (stative: 'perceive smell')

The cook is smelling the soup. (dynamic: 'inhale fumes')


Complications with state verbs1

Complications with state verbs:

2. adverbials denoting gradual change turn stative verbs into process verbs:

He resembles his father. (stative: 'look like')

He's resembling his father more andmore these days.(process: 'become like')

I forget how you say that in Russian.

(stative: 'not remember')

I'm gradually forgetting my Russian. (process: 'lose from memory')


Tense and aspect

Tense and aspect

  • The present progressive - can be used to present an event in future time as the outcome of present plan, with or without an adverbial which makes the future time reference explicit:

  • John is going to Paris next week.

  • Are you coming to the party?


The past progressive

The past progressive

  • The simple verb form ('completed action') vs. the progressive verb form ('on-going action'):

    Mary wrote a letter. (completed action)

    Mary was writing a letter. (on-going action)

  • As a consequence it is possible to use the progressive form with a framing (backgrounding) function, while the simple form represents an action, which took place within the temporal frame:

    Mary was writing a letter when the phone suddenly rang.


The perfective progressive

The perfective progressive

In combination with present tense and perfective aspect, the simple verb form and the progressive verb form express the expected kind of meaning contrast:

You've been painting the door. vs. You've painted the door.

(incomplete vs. completed action in the past with present relevance)

An adverbial which expresses continuity combines with the progressive form:

Peter has been painting the garage door all morning.

An adverbial which refers to a completed period combines with the non-progressive form:

Paul has painted the kitchen door in less than an hour.


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