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What is the correct term used to describe this tense in English — Present Progressive or Present Continuous? I see both terms used in grammar books.

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To get technical about it, present is a tense, but continuous and progressive are grammatical aspects, not tenses. Whereas tenses mark when an action happens, aspects give other temporal information, such as duration, completion, or frequency. English makes no distinction between continuous and progressive, and they are both formed using the present participle (–ing verb forms). Some languages, such as Chinese, distinguish between continuous and progressive, where the continuous aspect refers to the continuing state of the subject, whereas progressive refers to the the fact that the action is in progress.

The Wikipedia article linked above gives an example from Cantonese, where verb suffixes are used to mark continuous and progressive. The plain sentence I wear clothes would be translated as I am wearing clothes if the verb suffix for the continuous aspect were used, and as I am putting on clothes if the verb suffix for progressive aspect were used.

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These are synonyms. Either meaning is understood.

Since I've been getting flak for this answer (after six years this answer has been on the board), I'll elaborate a little.

First, let's look at what the word synonym means. A synonym is

A word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Let us also stipulate that the OP asked about English, not all languages. It's in his first sentence.

And now we move to the distinction, or lack thereof in English.

In the grammars of many languages the two terms are used interchangeably. This is the case with English: a construction such as "He is washing" may be described either as present continuous or as present progressive.

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    They are not synonyms. – Jonathan Komar Nov 23 '16 at 13:57
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    If they are used interchangeably, they're synonyms. And they are used that way in English, the language we're talking about on this site. "In the grammars of many languages the two terms are used interchangeably. This is the case with English: a construction such as "He is washing" may be described either as present continuous or as present progressive." – Robusto Nov 23 '16 at 14:26
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    For future readers, the scholarly answer is that they refer to different concepts, however, English, unlike some languages, does not distinguish between these two concepts. Robusto, you are setting a low standard for what constitutes a synonym. An illuminating approach would be to provide an analysis or explanation. You do not do this or even attempt to correct the questioners mistake in thinking that these terms are tenses. – Jonathan Komar Nov 23 '16 at 14:44
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    I think you're confusing this site with Linguistics(www.linguistics.stackexchange.com). When you answer a question here by citing the way something works in German, you're not really on topic for this site, however accurate your answer may be about German. Hier herrscht Ordnung, Herr macmadness86. – Robusto Nov 23 '16 at 14:54
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    I looked you up because I wasn't quite sure why you were making such a broad and, some would say, petty objection to my answer here. But to point out how germane (not German) this answer is, I need refer only to the OP's question, the first part of his first sentence: "What is the correct term used to describe this tense in English ...?" That limits the question to English, not linguistics in general, metaphysics, the three-second rule in basketball, or anything else in the universe. In English, the two aspects are synonymous. – Robusto Nov 23 '16 at 15:14
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From what I know, English does not differentiate between the progressive and continuous aspects.

Consider the following sentence: 'I am wearing a red hat today'. In a progressive nature, this could not be comprehended because it is usually impossible to perform the action of wearing a hat for let's say 8 hours progressively. Imagine someone trying to put on a hat from 6 a.m. and successfully completing it 8 hours later. But if we are to look at continuous nature, the sentence makes sense because 'wearing' in this context means I continuously wear the red hat throughout the day. I have finished putting it on at 6 am and continuously wear it for the rest of the day.

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    @Bidella: they are progressive and continuous -aspects-. – Mitch Mar 28 '12 at 0:55
  • @Mitch, edit it as you like! I don't have enough rep, so I can't change just one particular word. – Bidella Mar 28 '12 at 3:10

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 24 '12 at 10:25

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