So what’s progressive form? Well, it means that the action of the verb is continuing or progressing. It will contain some version of the verb to be and a present participle (an ‘ing verb).
Present I am walking / He is walking
Present perfect I have been walking / He has been walking
Past I was walking
Past perfect I had been walking
Future I will/shall be walking
Future perfect I will/shall have been walking
“Mary is counting the money.”
“While John was walking to the store, he tripped over a stone.”Now, tie it in with perfect tense and it gets all sorts of confusing:
“Jane will have been camping for three days come this Tuesday.”
“By the time John got to the store, Mary had been counting all the money.”So, if progressive means the action is continuing and perfect means the action has completed, then which is it?
Trust me. I know how confusing it is. It took me a little while and a lot of thinking to wrap my little brain around this concept. It’s all about timing.
Let’s take the first example:
“Jane will have been camping for three days come this Tuesday.”This is the progressive form of future perfect tense. What this says is that Jane is currently camping (the continuing “progressive” part). On Tuesday, three days of camping will be completed (the completed “perfect” part).
Right now the action is ongoing, but it has a definitive end.
Let’s take the second example:
“By the time John got to the store, Mary had been counting all the money.”This is the progressive form of past perfect tense. The past perfect tense means that something happened in the “past” past and is complete. However, throw the progressive form in there and it changes everything. This example says that Mary had already been counting the money before John got to the store (the past perfect part), but she is still counting all the money (the continuing “progressive” part).
So why is it so complex? Because now, you can say almost anything happened at any time and is either completed or still going on at any other point in time in one compact sentence instead of a whole paragraph.
Instead of saying:
“Mary started to count the money. John got to the store. She continued to count.”You can condense all three into our example:
“By the time John got to the store, Mary had been counting all the money.”Now, don’t get all excited and start condensing all your sentences into the progressive form. There is a time and a place for everything and if you start using the progressive form to emphasize timing throughout your work, the other events start to take a backseat. Then, when you do have an important scene, where timing is crucial, the reader won’t notice.
Even in our example, Mary and John are not the important elements. The fact that Mary is counting the money as John got to the store is the part that has emphasis. Perhaps that’s what we wanted to accomplish and perhaps it’s not.
Only use it when timing is important and that’s what you’re trying to emphasize. This is where a lot of writers get caught. They think they can condense their writing, but end up changing the focus of the sentence. Is it important that John went to the store, or that Mary hadn’t finished counting by the time he got there?
It’s your story. You decide what’s important.