Difference: progressive or continuous?

(Difficulties when denoting the English progressive form)

Table of contents – continuous or progressive

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Difference of continuous and progressive
  2. Verb tenses in the progressive form
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the difference between progressive and continuous?

When learning English, you generally come across these two terms: progressive and continuous. First, you need to realize that these are terms for certain verb tenses. They always consist of a form of ‘to be’ (‘am, is, are’, etc.) as well as a verb in the ing-form (present participle).

Next, the real problem is the assumption that two terms also stand for two different meanings. However, this is not the case. Basically, both mean exactly the same thing and can, therefore, replace one another. The term progressive is more commonly used, for example, in German-speaking regions and countries as this is usually the word utilized in English lessons at school. At specialized language schools for English as a foreign language (at home and abroad), on the other hand, there is a tendency towards continuous.

Meaning and naming of the tenses in the progressive form

As mentioned before, both expressions represent the progressive form – fundamentally a process that is currently ongoing at the specified point in time indicated in the statement. Particularities as well as special uses depend on the respective time (tense) and are listed separately in the following linked descriptions of the tenses.

As no difference is made between the two designations, the progressive tenses can also be named with both forms. Compare the example sentences in the table with the verb ‘to eat’:

Possibility 1   Possibility 2 Example sentence
present progressive corresponds to present continuous He is eating.
present perfect progressive corresponds to present perfect continuous He has been eating.
past progressive corresponds to past continuous He was eating.
past perfect progressive corresponds to past perfect continuous He had been eating.
future progressive corresponds to future continuous He will be eating.
future perfect progressive corresponds to future perfect continuous He will have been eating.

Further explanations related to the ‘Difference of continuous and progressive’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Continuous or progressive (denoting the English progressive form)’ and may also be helpful:

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