Revisiting the continuing forms of the perfect tenses


WE made a full-dress review of the perfect tenses in the past five columns. To round off the review, we will now revisit the progressive perfect tenses. Recall that as the continuing forms of the three perfect tenses, the progressive perfect tenses denote actions that are repeated over a period of time in the past, that are continuing in the present, or that will continue in the future.

The “perfected” or completed aspect of the progressive perfect tenses is a repeated action that begins before another action, that is in progress during another action, or that continues after another time or action. To evoke the progressive perfect tenses, the suffix “-ing” is added to the base form of the main verb, which is then paired off with a form of the auxiliary verb “have” and the perfect participle of the verb “be.” This tense has this form: Subject + (has/had/have) + (been) + (base verb form + ing).

How the progressive perfect tenses work will become much clearer as we take up its three forms individually: the present perfect progressive, the past perfect progressive, and the future perfect progressive.

Present Perfect Progressive. This tense denotes an action that started in the past, continues in the present, and may also keep going into the future; its focus is on the on-going nature of that action, condition, or event. Typical examples: “He has been campaigning with no clear-cut political platform.” “The transport agency has been receiving brickbats from disgruntled commuters all year round.” “They have been depending on government doles to keep themselves afloat.” “Although the company has been shedding off workers since last year, its profitability hasn’t improved at all.”

Past Perfect Progressive. This tense denotes (1) an action ongoing in the past but is now complete, and (2) a continuing action in the past that began before another past action did, or a continuing action that interrupted the first action. Typical examples: “The candidate had been leading in poll surveys before her citizenship and residency were questioned.” “The company had been strapped for funds, but its financial situation vastly improved when an investor bailed it out.” “The student had not been attending his science class for several weeks before he realized that he had forgotten to formally drop the subject.”

The third example above is a complex sentence that uses the past perfect progressive (“had not been attending”) to emphasize the ongoing nature of the past act of attending class, the past perfect (“had forgotten”) to suggest that the act of forgetting was completed, and the simple past (“realized”) to describe the most recent action.

Future Perfect Progressive. This tense denotes (1) a condition or action that will be in progress at a specific time in the future, and (2) an action that will continue over time from now into the future. Examples: “The professor will have been teaching in the college for 20 semesters by yearend.” “By the time he graduates from law school, the student will have been working as a circus barker for five years.” “When the overseas contract worker comes back home, the family business will have been languishing for six years.”

Take note though that the future perfect progressive tense is now rarely used in everyday writing and speech. Contemporary usage favors the use of the conditional “would” instead of the future perfect progressive: “The professor would have taught in the college for 20 semesters by yearend.” “By the time he graduates from law school, the student would have worked as a circus barker for five years.”

I trust that this review of the progressive perfect tenses, along with our previous full-dress review of the basic perfect tenses, has given readers a keener and more precise way of reckoning with actions and events as they unfold in time.

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