May 7, 2015

What’s the Difference Between Progressive and Perfect Tenses?

2 minute read

These two tenses can sometimes seem a bit difficult to understand. They both relate to things that might have happened in the past – but there’s a key difference between them!

So let’s take a closer look at each one, and see how they can be used.

The Perfect Tense

The perfect past tense is fairly easy to work out – you use it when you are describing something that had happened previously in the past – and is now over.

You formulate by using the past tense of the verb, “to have”, followed by the past participle of the main verb. For example:

“I had eaten my breakfast far too early that morning.”

The perfect tense can also be used with the present tense, and this time – it has a slightly different meaning. While it still relates to the past – in this case, you use it to describe things that are still continuing to happen in the present time.

Let’s take a look at an example to understand it a bit better!

“I have lost a lot of weight this year so far.” 

This describes the action of losing weight, which had started taking place in the past, but is still going on.

To put it together, you use the present tense form of the verb “I have”, followed by the past participle.

Lastly – and slightly more confusing – you can also use the perfect tense to describe the future too! At first glance, it might seem like you’re talking about the past.

For example:

“By the time he’s 30, he will have become a millionaire!” 

With the perfect future tense – you use the same form as the perfect present tense – but you also add “will” at the start. This is used to describe an action that will take place and be completed in the future.

Makes sense, now – right?

The Progressive Tense

The progressive, or continuous tense, might seem very similar at first glance, but there are some important differences you should pay attention to.

First of all, it’s used when you’re talking about something that is going on right now. Unlike the present perfect tense, the progressive tense indicates that it will continue to happen in the future, too.

For example:

“She has lost weight this year” – present perfect tense. This could be used to express an action (losing weight) that continued from the past to the present, but might not continue in future.

“She is losing weight this year” – progressive tense. This indicates an action that is happening right now – and will continue to happen in the future too.

To put it together, you use the present tense form of the verb “to be”, followed by the present participle of the main verb, ending in –ing.

The progressive tense can also be used to describe things that are going to happen in future too.

For example:

“The team is playing at the next Olympics.”

Your turn

There are some subtle but important differences between the different tenses, so make sure you pay attention to them! Keep practicing in your reading and writing, so that you get used to using the correct one.