What are the present continuous and the past continuous?

What are the present continuous and the past continuous?
We use the present continuous and past continuous verb tenses when talking or writing about actions that continue or continued over a period of time In our parents' guide to the continuous or progressive verb tenses we explain what children are taught in the primary-school classroom.

What are the present continuous (progressive) and past continuous?

A verb tense tells us when the action of state described by the verb happened. The three main verb tenses in English are the present, the past, and the future.

The present tense is made up of:

  • simple present / present simple
  • present continuous / present progressive
  • present perfect

The past tense is made up of:

  • simple past / past simple
  • past continuous / past progressive
  • past perfect

The present continuous and past continuous tenses (also called present progressive and past progressive) are used when we are describing actions that continue for a period of time in the present or in the past. 


To form the present continuous and past continuous we use the present / past tense of the verb to be and the present participle of the main verb (I am walking / I was walking). 

The present continuous / present progressive explained

The present continuous tense is used to describe an action that is happening at the moment of speaking:

I am leaving work.

The past continuous / past progressive explained

The past continuous is used for a continuous action in the past, for example:

I was working hard when the telephone interrupted me.
Everyone was shouting.
They were always arguing.

What are children taught about present and past continuous in KS2?

Children will be introduced to the progressive tenses as part of their KS2 grammar learning. Rather confusingly, these tenses can be referred to as continuous or progressive!

What questions should children expect in the Y6 grammar test?

Children may come across questions similar to the following:

Answer: Francesca was learning a song for the school play.

How do teachers teach the present and past continuous?

  • A good way to help children learn this tense is to ask them to write a few sentences about what they did yesterday, all in the past continuous.
  • Teachers may give children word cards (for example: going, walking, fishing, sailing and cooking). Children may be asked to put these words into sentences containing the present continuous.
  • A good game to help with learning this tense is: 'You are... but I am...'. Children play this in pairs. One child says: 'You are...' and then gives an action such as 'digging the garden'. The other child has to mime this. The first child then says 'but I am' and thinks of a different action such as 'baking a cake' which they then mime.