Printer Friendly

The progressive romantic.

WHICH COMMENT would you prefer from your sexual partner?

I am going to be romantic tonight. I will be romantic tonight.

Which statement would you prefer?

My partner is romantic. My partner is being romantic.

Knowing which comments are preferable depends on an understanding of progressive tense, which results from preceding a verb ending in "ing" with a form of "to be" ("am," "is," "are," "was," "were," "be" or "being").

Progressive-tense verbs refer to a limited phase of time, not to a habitual state. The partner who "is being romantic" is romantic at a particular moment; at other moments the partner may or may not be romantic, even may never be romantic again. The partner who "is romantic," however, is habitually romantic.

Whereas non-progressive tenses -- such as present, past, future, and perfect tenses -- place one outside an event, seeing the action as a whole, progressive forms place one inside part of an event. The partner who says he or she "is going to be romantic tonight" may not be romantic that night because the statement refers only to the intention of the partner at that moment. If the partner is not romantic that night, the partner has not necessarily lied: At a later moment the partner's intention may change. The original intention of the statement may have been even to scare away the other partner, in fact, to prevent having to be romantic that night.

"I will be romantic tonight," however, is a prediction of what will happen. If the partner is not romantic, the partner has not told the truth.

How do the following pairs of statements differ?

The witness saw him robbing the bank. The witness saw him rob the bank.

The congressman was standing beside the Potomac. The congressman stood beside the Potomac.

In the first pair of statements, though "robbing" is a gerund used as an objective complement, it comes from a progressive form, as in "He was robbing the bank," and it carries a progressive-tense meaning. Since progressive-tense verbs refer to a segment of a developing event, in the first statement the witness may not have seen the beginning and/or the end of the process, but only the middle of the event. The second statement, however, implies that the witness saw the whole robbery; the act of thievery is not segmented into a beginning, middle, and end.

Progressive-tense verbs refer to relative short spans of time. The congressman, thus, would be standing by the Potomac River because this action is a temporary event. The George Washington Monument, however, stands by the Potomac River because it is a more permanent event.

Because the U.S. presidency is limited to two terms, a current president is living, not lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Whether President Clinton will set up or is going to set up a health-care plan that is fair and workable, whether Clinton is or is being a moderate Democrat -- these are major editorial differences.

Ron Davis is administrator of journalism programs at State University of New York in Plattsburgh and consultant/writing coach for the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Point of Grammar; progressive tense
Author:Davis, Ron
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:Motley crew burns midnight oil crafting cliches.
Next Article:Our art isn't dead, but it may be sleeping.

Related Articles
Language without rules; a curious speech disorder raises questions about the genetics of grammar.
Everybody's talkin': language's great innate debate continues to make noise.
Follow the rules, baby.
The danger of passivity. (Language Teaching & Learning).
English resultant, affected and eventive objects in Polish grammar.
On the effectiveness of options in grammar teaching: translating theory and research into classroom practice.
Otto Steinmayer. Jalai Jako' Iban. A Basic Grammar of the Iban Language of Sarawak, 1999.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters