Look out for different uses of the progressive tense (to be + verb-ing). The different uses will be explained below the text. If you have problems with the vocabulary, please see the definitions of the difficult words here. Thousands of public sector workers are protesting in the streets today about the political row over pensions. The 24-hour walkout is being held after several unions combined forces to show their anger at government plans to reform pensions. The proposals mean that people will have to work for longer before they retire and also pay more to their pension contributions every month. It is the biggest national strike for over 30 years and hospitals, schools, public transport and courts are all being effected by today’s walkout. Millions of children are having the day off school today as teachers and heads are picketing at school gates across the country, closing 75% of England’s schools for the day. Heathrow airport was preparing for major disruption and were warning customers yesterday that they could expect a 2 or 3-hour wait in border queues. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said, “There are going to be queues, but we have contigency plans in place to lessen the impact of the strikes.” However, passengers landing there today said that border controls were ‘better than normal’. One regular passenger who arrived from the USA today said that getting through the airport was better than usual: “They were giving out free fruit and water, which they don’t usually do!” A spokesman for Heathrow said: We have over 400 additional customer services staff in our terminals. They are giving 24-hour support to passengers, providing information, food, drink and children’s activity packs.
What the main players said
- The leader of the biggest union, TUC told a rally: ‘The government are scrapping the bankers’ bonus tax and are replacing it with a teachers, nurses and lollipop ladies tax!’
- One of the government’s junior ministers called the strike-action unnecessary and said that the government was continuing negotiations with the unions.
- The General Secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: The government is claiming publicly that they want to get round the table, when actually ministers have not called a meeting…that is misleading
- Another union leader said: People should be very proud of the stand they are making today, in contrast to the shame of the government.
- George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in a BBC interview: I’m not picking a fight with anyone. I’m trying to deal with this country’s debts that were racked up in the good years and unfortunately, now that we are in the difficult years, we are paying them off.
A Progressive form (to be + -ing) can be in the past, present or future. We have to change the verb ‘to be’ according to when the action takes place. e.g. PAST: I was teaching yesterday, when suddenly the fire alarm went off PRESENT: I am writing an article now about grammar FUTURE: Tomorrow, I will be going for a walk with my dog in the forest.
(am, is, are + -ing) These actions are happening at the present moment, i.e. NOW. They started at some time in the past and they will stretch into some point in the future. public sector workers are protesting in the streets today Millions of children are having the day off school today They are giving 24-hour support to passengers The government are scrapping the bankers’ bonus tax and are replacing it with a teachers tax! The government is claiming publicly that they want to get round the table People should be very proud of the stand they are making today I’m not picking a fight with anyone. I’m trying to deal with this country’s debts
Present progressive for future
We can also use the present progressive when we are talking about plans/expectations that will happen in the future. There are going to be queues
(was/were + -ing) These actions/events were in progress (going on) at some specific point in past time. Heathrow airport was preparing for major disruption and were warning customers yesterday that they could expect a 2 or 3-hour wait in border queues They were giving out free fruit and water (earlier today)
This sentence is not the past progressive: it is reported speech of present progressive. When the Government minister actually spoke, he said: “The government is continuing negotiations with the unions.” This is an example of the present progressive as explained above. But, in reported speech, we step back from present to past with the verb ‘to be’. So we go from is continuing to was continuing One of the government’s junior ministers called the strike-action unnecessary and said that the government was continuing negotiations with the unions.
Just because a word ends with ‘ing’ and has the verb ‘to be’ before it, does NOT mean that this is a progressive case. In this example, misleading is an adjective. We could change that word for another adjective e.g. that is wrong. Now it looks much less like a progressive form, doesn’t it? actually ministers have not called a meeting…that is misleading