Use of Continuous Tenses

Continuous Tenses and Meaning

Continuous tense: any tense, past, present or future, formed with the auxiliary verb be and a main verb in -ing form (for example: he is speaking, they have been working)

There are some verbs that we do not normally use with continuous (or progressive) tenses. And there are other verbs that have one meaning with simple tenses and a different meaning with continuous tenses.

Non-continuous Verbs

Non-continuous verbs are verbs that we do not normally use with continuous tenses. These “stative” verbs are about state, not action, and they cannot express the continuous or progressive aspect. Here are some of the most common non-continuous verbs:

feeling: hate, like, love, prefer, want, wish

senses: appear, feel, hear, see, seem, smell, sound, taste

communication: agree, deny, disagree, mean, promise, satisfy, surprise

thinking: believe, imagine, know, mean, realize, recognize, remember, understand

other states: be, belong, concern, depend, involve, matter, need, owe, own, possess

Look at these example sentences, right and wrong:

Correct StatementsWrong Statements
I want a coffee.I am wanting a coffee.
I don’t believe you are right.I am not believing you are right.
Does this pen belong to you? Is this pen belonging to you?
It seemed wrong.It was seeming wrong.
I don’t hear anything.I am not hearing anything.


With verbs that we cannot use in continuous tenses, there is no real action or activity. Compare hear and listen. The verb “hear” means “receive sound in your ears”. There is no action or activity by you. We cannot use hear with continuous tenses. But listen means “try to hear”. You make an effort to hear. There is a kind of action or activity. We can use listen with continuous tenses.


1. I told my teacher that I _________ what she said.

 did not believe
 was not believing

2. I ________ the number 12 bus just down the road.

 could see
 was seeing

3. At the moment Maria ________ her homework, as she does every day.

 is doing

4. The baby ________ 21 inches long.

 is measuring

5. Please be quiet. I ________ to the radio.

 am listening

6. Everything on the menu ________ delicious.

 is tasting

7. Why ________ so selfish about this?

 are you
 are you being

8. Was he on time or was he ________ ?

 being late

9. He told the police he’d only had a small drink and was ________ not to drive too fast.

 being careful

10. Is she always ________ with children and animals?

 so patient
 being so patient