I'm trying to clear some confusion I have when writing in different verb tenses. I found Purdow OWL's tutorial, but the explanation is not clear to me.

Here's the example from the website: Example 2: Simple present narration with perfect and progressive elements

In this scene...

By the time Tom notices the doorbell, it has already rung three times. As usual, he has been listening to loud music on his stereo. He turns the stereo down and stands up to answer the door. An old man is standing on the steps. The man begins to speak slowly, asking for directions.

Purdue OWL explanation: In this example as in the first one, the progressive verbs has been listening and is standing indicate action underway as some other action takes place. The present perfect progressive verb has been listening suggests action that began in the time frame prior to the main narrative time frame and that is still underway as another action begins. The remaining tense relationships parallel those in the first example.

I've bolded the part that's confusing to me. The present perfect progressive action began prior to the main narrative time frame (this part I understand, it's referring to the the present tense notices) but I don't know what is that "another action" that begins while Tom has been listening. What is that "another action" that begins while Tom has been listening to loud music in his stereo? Thank you!

  • I think you're probably overanalysing the significance of as another action begins. All it means is the activity referred to using present perfect progressive (listening, here) started before the reference time, and continued at least up to that time. In order for the "current" reference time to mean anything at all, the narrative must in some way indicate when it is "now"). That will invariably be done using a verb, which will normally describe some time-specific "action". Feb 12, 2014 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


There are several examples of other actions that begin while Tom "has been listening":


  • Notices the doorbell
  • doorbell has been rung
  • turns the stereo down

Really I think "notices" is the "other action" referred to, since it is another action which took place during the "main narrative time frame", and is not itself the "main narrative time frame".


The Present Perfect (Pf) has three uses. One use I call "action up to now". An action begins at some point in the Past Time and continues up to now or even longer. Mostly you use Pf progressive for this situation:
--- I have been living in Munich for 50 year (now). --- The Earth has been spinning around the sun for millions of years (think: up to now and will continue to do so) --- Tom has been listening to loud musik. (from some time in the past up to now)

You use the Pf prog. especially when you have one ongoing action (as listening to music) and a new event interrupts this action. --- Tom has been listening to loud musik, but suddenly the telephone rings/or suddenly there is a loud knocking at the door.

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