In spite of English the German language does not have Present/Past Progressive, although both languages have the same root. When and why did the progressive tenses develop and became part of the English language?

Note: this is not a duplicate of this question because that one does not explain WHY (in spite of German) it has happened as requested here.

  • Can you explain what kind of answer would suffice for 'why'? The possible duplicate gives the history. At some point English diverged from other Germanic languages. 'why' can have reasons like 'Future English speakers were isolated from the others', or 'non-Germanic speakers said something like "I am X-ing" and that pattern was borrowed', or 'English people just started talking that way'. What other kinds of reasons are you looking for?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:48
  • Either the reasons which are known from all those history books, or the answer "There is no known reason.". :-)
    – äüö
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:52
  • falkb: but what is the form of reason you want. All the books are going to give descriptions of what happened. Can you describe what a 'reason' would look like to you? "The English decided one day that 'I run' wasn't imparting the correct information, and Germans have since been hampered in their communication ability by not having the distinction between progressive and perfect" ?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 13:02
  • hmm... more something like "After 10 years, Wolfrick sailed back to the British Islands and noticed some people newly say 'I am going' instead of 'Currently, I go', asked them why and thus they explained the following: ...". ;)
    – äüö
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 13:21
  • 2
    Falkb: OK, that's a reasonable way to ask the question. But you will be disappointed because there is hardly ever an answer like that because: spoken language is a behavior that is arrived at by no pre-thought reason, people just do it, trying to keep the same as everyone else, but sometimes slipping into other ways. One can describe historically what changed when, but there is no -reason- for the change; no on is making changes on purpose and telling everyone to follow the new rule.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


-ing Etymology

suffix attached to verbs to mean their action, result, product, material, etc., from Old English -ing, -ung, from Proto-Germanic *unga (cognates: Old Norse -ing, Dutch -ing, German -ung). Originally used to form nouns from verbs and to denote completed or habitual action. Its use has been greatly expanded in Middle and Modern English.

-ing (2) suffix used form the present participle of verbs, from Old English -ende (cognates: German -end, Gothic -and, Sanskrit -ant, Greek -on, Latin -ans). It evolved into -ing in 13c.-14c.

See also: -ing definitions

  • Could you explain the backgrounds of the -ing history of verbs a bit more in detail, please? For instance, why doesn't one say Currently, I run. instead of I am running. (like in German)?
    – äüö
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:24
  • Pls have a look at the second link '-ing definitions' , at point 2 and 3.
    – user66974
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:28
  • @falkb you hardly ever say 'I run' in whatever context. It is formally grammatical but just is not used that much. 'Why' is not a n easy (if at all possible) question to answer. N one was designing English or German ahead of time (like Java or Cobol). Things just happened.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:38
  • 2
    What if the "reading" in "I'm reading" was a gerund and not a pres. participle? I tend to the gerund theory for two reasons. We have in older English: We were a-hunting. That looks like a shrivelled prep. (at/in/on) and in the west of Germany people use extensively progressive forms in spoken language of the type Ich bin am Packen/Ich bin am Koffer Packen. It seems as if in English the preposition before the gerund was dropped at an early time. As gerund and present participle had the same form, the verbal part in prog.forms was taken as a participle without any historical research.
    – rogermue
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 14:58
  • 1
    I researched a bit more and now you can find the answer I would accept here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/148670/…
    – äüö
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 21:57

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