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THE PAST CONTINUOUS (PROGRESSIVE) TENSE


The primary meaning of the Past Continuous is that of a past action shown in its progress at a given past moment, e. g.:
The door was slowly opening, and Anthony found himself gazing into a pair of pale-gray hooded eyes.
(Gordon) She followed his gaze through the falling rain and saw a man and a girl coming from the large block of flats opposite her home. Now they were getting into a little motor car. (Gordon)
Verbal processes in narration may also be denoted by the Past Continuous, e. g.:
The fog was rapidly disappearing, already the moon shone quite clear on the high ground on either side. It seemed to him very far off a great throng was forming. It was menacing, shouting. It stirred, it moved, it was advancing.
147Progression in time as denoted by the Past Continuous is most fluctuating and variable: from several short stretches of time to long duration, repeated actions or simultaneity or, say, increasing duration. Examples are:
Suddenly Soames said: "I can't go on like this. I tell you I can't go on like this. His eyes were shifting from side to side, like an animal's when it looks for way of escape". (Galsworthy) Jolyon gazed into his hat, his embarrassment was increasing fast; so was his admiration, his wonder, and his pity. (Galsworthy) ...But Mammy was showing her age and rheumatism was slowing her lumbering tread. (Mitchell) Here the implied context is all that exists or can be considered relevant.
Two other youths, oblique-eyed, dark-haired, rather sly-faced, like the two little boys, were talking together and lolling against the wall; and a short, elderly, clean-shaven man in corduroys, seated in the window, was conning a battered journal. (Galsworthy) Compare also:
a) She was playing the piano from eleven to twelve this morning. b) She played the piano from eleven to twelve this morning.
What matters in the choice of the verb-form, as always in language, is the speaker's view of matters.
To sum up, continuous forms may either indicate that an activity is incomplete or not as yet completed, or else may be noncommittal regarding the completion of the specified activity.
A special interest attaches to its stylistic transposition where it comes to represent:
a) future action when that future moment is viewed from the past. This is often the case in patterns with the free reported speech. The primary meaning of the verb-form comes to be neutralised by the situational context, e. g.: At last, my dear, I thought you were never coming.
b) with adverbs of frequency and repetition the Past Continuous will generally denote habitual actions, abilities, properties and other characteristic traits, e. g.: Annette was always running up to town for one thing or another, so that he had Fleur to himself almost as much as he could wish. (Galsworthy) '
Instances are not few when patterning with such adverbs becomes an effective stylistic device to express various emotions: annoyance, irritation, displeasure, anger, amusement, praise, etc. The expressive element is often intensified by some other indicators of the given context, e. g.:
His car bumped something slightly, and came to a stand. That fellow Riggs was always bumping something. (Galsworthy)
The emotive factors determine and modify patterns of grammatical structure in unnumerable ways. Attention has been repeatedly drawn to the fact that they may affect not only the choice of vocabulary but the character of such metaphors as occur in the use of grammatical forms. The Continuous Tenses of the present-day English are most dynamic in this respect. More and more they are used with special functions of different modal force. The stylistic range of their application in expressive language has become surprisingly wide.
c) we also know such transpositions when the Past Continuous is endowed with special emotive functions and comes to express rather the
148intention of doing something than the action itself. In such patterns of "implied negation" the connection between the subject and predicate is not to be taken in a direct or positive sense. The meaning is thus negative, that of an unrealised intention to do something (suppositional modality), e. g.: "I suppose you were too busy to come to the station".
He coloured crimson. "I was coming, of course", he said, "but something stopped me" 1.
'I was coming' means: "I intended to come" (but I did not) 2.
Like in other cases, the opposition "real — unreal" comes to be neutralised here by contextual indication.
Here he was not surprised to meet Stener just coming out, looking very pale and distraught. At the sight of Cowperwood he actually blanched.
"Why, hello, Frank", he exclaimed, sheepishly, "where do you come from?".
"What's up, George?" asked Cowperwood. "I thought you were coming into Broad Street".
"So I was", returned Stener, foolishly, "but I thought I would get off at West Philadelphia and change my clothes. I've a tot of things to tend to yet this afternoon. I was coming in to see you". After Cowperwood's urgent telegram this was silly but the young banker let it pass. (Dreiser).
Cf. Russian: открывал, да не открыл, выбирал, да не выбрал. Ukrainian: розкривав, та не розкрив; вибирав, та не вибрав.
Closely related to this is the analogous modal use of the Present Perfect Continuous, e. g.: Mr. S. lands at Southampton tonight. He has always been coming. This time he has come.
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Источник: N. M. RAYEVSKA. MODERN ENGLISH GRAMMAR. 1976 {original}

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