1. How to Use Continuous Verbs to Describe a Moment in Time
Does this sound complicated? It really isn’t—this is the most basic use of continuous forms. Let’s look at some examples:
- I’m teaching you about English verbs. –> I am doing this now. It also means that I have started, but I haven’t finished, so we are in the middle of our lesson.
- He was eating dinner when I called him. –> He started eating dinner before I called him, and he hadn’t finished when I spoke to him: he was in the middle of his dinner.
- We’ll be waiting for you outside the main entrance at 6.00. –> We’ll arrive before 6.00, and we’ll wait until you arrive.
You can use this meaning in the past, the present or the future, but perfect verb forms (with have) don’t express this meaning.
2. How to Use continuous Verbs to Talk about Something You Think is Annoying or Strange
This is common when you use present or past tenses. It’s also common to add an adverb like always to express this idea.
- She’s always complaining about her personal problems in the office. –> I find this annoying.
- He was being really quiet yesterday. –> That’s strange, because he isn’t usually quiet.
- Why are you always losing your keys? –> I don’t understand why you lose your keys so often.
This is a strange use of continuous forms in some ways, because we don’t usually use continuous forms to talk about habits. However, this is very common in spoken English, so it’s a good idea to remember it.
3. How to Use continuous Verbs to Focus on a Process
This is common with perfect continuous forms (= verb forms made with have). Let’s look at some examples:
- I’ve been waiting here for hours. –> I still don’t have what I came here for.
- He’d been studying for days before the exam. –> There isn’t a clear result.
- How long have you been working on that? –> You still haven’t finished.
4. How to Use Continuous Verbs to Describe Changes
We often use continuous verbs in English to describe a changing situation, or to talk about trends.
- The traffic is getting worse every year. –> There are more and more cars on the road.
- The city was developing incredibly quickly during the 1970s. –> The city became bigger and richer year after year.
- It’s becoming harder and harder to work there. –> The working conditions are worse than they used to be.
5. How to Use the Present Continuous to Talk about Future Plans
It’s very common in English to use the present continuous to talk about the future, but I hardly ever hear English learners use it.
We use the present continuous to talk about a plan in the future which has a fixed place or a fixed time.
So if you have a plan, and you know exactly where or when it will happen, you can use the present continuous.
- I’m meeting them for dinner tonight. –> We’ve already arranged a place and a time.
- What are you doing this weekend? –> Do you have any plans?
- We’re taking the train at 8.00. –> We’ve already bought tickets.