Meaning and Use of the Progressive
The progressive is most commonly used to indicate a temporary condition, namely that: 1. the event takes time to occur, rather than happening all at once; 2. the event lasts for a limited time. With some verbs, the progressive shows that the event is not necessarily complete: (40) Simple past: I read Margaret Atwood's latest novel yesterday. (41) Past progressive: I was reading Margaret Atwood's latest novel yesterday. Because progressives specify a block of time, they are frequently used for actions that overlap some other point in time: (42) When Mark came home he found that his girlfriend was throwing all his belongings out of the window. Because the simple present often implies habitual action, the present progressive is typically used to refer to an individual event that has a present time referent: (43a) What does Mark do over there in the corner? (43b) What is Mark doing over there in the corner? Sentence 43a only makes sense if Mark performs some action regularly in the corner. For this reason, a number of ESL textbooks call the present progressive the "present tense," a potential source of confusion for ESL learners. Because the progressive stresses a temporary state, it generally cannot be used with verbs that describe a permanent quality or state of being: (44) *He is knowing English very well. (45) *She is being from Guatemala. (46) *Norma is having red hair. The progressive can be used with some state verbs to imply a temporary state. In the a-versions of the sentences below, the situation is permanent, where the b-version implies that the state has a finite duration. Simple present: (47a) The Lees live in Kwangju. (48a) Bart is a brat. Present progressive: (47b) The Lees are living in Kwangju this summer. (48b) Bart is being a brat.