The sentence in question (on the test I composed) is:

Somehow, it seems to worry you when your parents _______ (grow) old.

I expected my students to use the present simple because the present simple is used in temporal clauses. In this instance, "when" indicates a period of time. This is standard usage.

Yet, most of students answered with the present continuous. Upon more careful consideration, it does seem plausible with the present continuous if we apply the rule that says "when we talk about changes happening around now, especially with verbs like rise, fall, grow, etc. (Reference: English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, Fourth Edition, Cambridge University Press 2012)


Somehow, it seems to worry you when your parents grow old.

Somehow, it seems to worry you when your parents are growing old.

The more I read the sentence with "are growing", the more it grows on me (pun intended).

I seem to have lost my native-speaker feeling after reading more "are growing" answers than my preferred "grow" answer. In addition, I know that the present continuous aspect has crept into the language in the last decades, and I'm just hating it (My attempt at wit.).

I always want to be fair to my students and, therefore, am asking for help from native-speakers. Consider that my students are training to be translators, so accuracy is essential.

  • 1
    The first sentence conveys the idea that I get worried when my parents get old. The second says that I'm worried when they engage in the process of aging, which sounds kind of strange. I'm not sure what meaning you actually want to convey, but perhaps you would be better served by "Somehow, it seems to worry you THAT your parents are growing old." – Dave Magner Feb 3 '15 at 21:01
  • 2
    It seems to me that people worry about their parents growing old more than once and done with, and people grow old in increments, so that a continual process is reasonable and sounds right to me. However, both are acceptable. – anongoodnurse Feb 3 '15 at 21:01

You don't notice that your parents grew old in an instant -- it's a process. So "are growing old" makes more sense to me. Or you could use "as" instead of "when".


There's nothing wrong with using the present continuous there. It has more of a sense of immediacy to it. Simple present seems to put a period on the process, because it may be construed as pointing to a precise moment when one can say "Hey, my parents are old" rather than "Bit by bit I see my parents change from young to old."

As either expression makes grammatical sense, there is no reason to favor one over the other, depending on what you want to say. The rest is style.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.