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Simple vs. Progressive Tenses

Explanation and Quiz


Here is a comparison between simple and simple progressive tenses. As a rule of thumb please remember that any form of the progressive can only be used with an action verb. Nonprogressive verbs include:


Mental States

know believe imagine want realize feel doubt need understand suppose remember prefer recognize think forget mean

Emotional State

love hate fear mind like dislike envy care appreciate


possess have own belong

Sense Perceptions

taste hear see smell feel

Other Existing States

seem cost be consist of look owe exist contain appear weigh include

The following exceptions apply to the above:
(As an activity)

think -- I am thinking about this grammar
have -- She is having a good time.
taste -- The chef is tasting the sauce
smell -- He is smelling the flowers.
see -- I am seeing the doctor this afternoon.
feel -- Peter isn't feeling very well today.
look -- They are looking at the picture.
appear -- The big star is appearing at the local theater.
weigh -- The butcher is weighing the steak.
be -- Sally is being stupid.

Keeping these verbs in mind, look at the following chart to review the use of the simple progressive tenses (past, present, and future) and the simple tenses (past present, and future).

Simple Progressive Tenses (past, present, and future)

1) CONTINUOUS ACTIVITY Used to emphasize the continuous nature of any given activity. examples I was watching television at 8 o'clock last night. Fred is speaking on the telephone at the moment. They will be eating lunch at Harold's tomorrow.

2) ACTIVITY IN PROGRESS INTERSECTED BY A NON-CONTINUOUS ACTIVITY I was watching television when Susan telephoned. example They will be working in the garden when you arrive.

3) TWO CONTINUOUS ACTIVITIES OCCURRING AT THE SAME TIME example Peter was cooking dinner while I was working at the computer.

Simple Tenses (past, present, and future)

1) HABITUAL ACTIVITY Used to talk about repeated, regular or habitual activities. examples I went to school at 8 o'clock when I was a child. I usually take the bus to work He'll commute to work after he moves.

2) NON-CONTINUOUS ACTIVITY examples he boys bought some new coats yesterday. They will arrive at 7 o'clock

3) TWO HABITUAL EVENTS example She kept the books and he advised the clients at their last job.

Special use of the Progressive We often use the progressive form to express annoyance at a repeated action. In this case, a time expression such as always, forever, continually, etc. must be inserted between the auxiliary and the verb ing. examplesTom is always complaining about his job! Mary was forever leaving work early.

After having reviewed the usage the simple vs. the simple progressive forms, take the following quiz to check your understanding. Check your answers on the following page.

  • When you arrive tomorrow, I a) will cooking b) will be cooking c) cook dinner.
  • Tom a) was washing the car b) washed the car while I was reading the newspaper.
  • They a) visited b) was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday.
  • She a) will be participating b) will participate in tomorrow's race.
  • Jack a) always complains b) is always complaining about how little he earns.
  • They a) will be going b) will go to work by train for the next month.
  • Frank a) is thinking b) thinks Peter is a bit stupid at the moment.
  • Debbie a) is smelling b) smells the flowers in the garden now.
  • I a) was working b) worked in the basement when you a) were arriving b) arrived.

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