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Here are the usages of the present continuous. And here is the sentence:

Dan is sleeping in the living room while we redecorate his bedroom.

It is clear that it is a temporary situation that he is sleeping in the living room. But the action of redecoration is temporary too, why it is not used in the present continuous either? I asked a native speaker who failed to give a decent explanation and we ended up thinking that it might have something to do with "while", any ideas? enter image description here

  • If you want it to be present continuous, you could say it like: Dan is sleeping in the living room while we are redecorating his bedroom. – Nikhil Eshvar Nov 7 '17 at 10:43
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The answer lies in the difference between recur and occur. Sleeping recurs. Redecoration occurs. To express the idea that one action recurs while another action occurs, we use the ing-form with the recurring action and the simple tense with the action which occurs.

When it is not used with a future implication ("We're going to the beach this coming weekend"), the BE + -ing form expresses action as

  • repetitive or recurrent
  • consistent over time
  • in progress as we speak

The young child was saying the f-word over and over again, gleefully.repetitive

The engine is running smoothly these days. We switched mechanics. consistent over time

Excuse me, but your nose is bleeding. in progress as we speak

Redecoration is not a single action repeated over and over again, like the child saying the f-word.

And even though redecoration takes some time, we cannot really say that it is consistent, since it is comprised of multiple discrete actions performed seriatim.

Nor are we redecorating even as Dan lies asleep in the living room, snoring away; rather, we redecorate Dan's room by day, which leaves the room in an uninhabitable state so that Dan must sleep on the sofa until we're finished.

If we say Dan is sleeping ... while we are redecorating there is the possible meaning that the two actions are in progress simultaneously, which is not quite the case. They simply occur during the same time-frame. But we could use the ing-form nonetheless, and say while we are redecorating to reinforce the notion that the redecoration is ongoing; most listeners would probably understand that we are not nocturnal redecorators, and they would probably not assume that Dan works the night shift.

  • Tᴚoɯɐuo, I always though that recurrence and repetition is an aspect of the present simple. Like, I go to school every day. It happens again and again. For example if I said " I'm sitting at home while there is a storm outside" would it be a good way to say that? – Dmitrii Nov 7 '17 at 17:12
  • Normal or standard practice does share some things with the repetitive (we don't go to school for one day only, never go again, and say "I go to school"); however, the simple present casts the action a single fact ("I go to school" = "I am a student at....") rather than as an action repeated again and again. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 7 '17 at 17:20
  • Sitting is not really repetitive or recurrent but durational. It would fall into the "consistent over time" category in my answer above. So yes, you could say, "I'm sitting here at home, sipping some hot tea, as the storm rages outside." The sipping could refer to a single sip or to many sips :) It is what is ongoing or what is recurring. I was just sipping some tea when you called. These categories shade into each other. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 7 '17 at 17:25
  • Tᴚoɯɐuo, If I say : " I'm living with my mother while my wife lives in Scotland ". Is "my wife lives" occurs or recurs? Are both of them consistent over time? – Dmitrii Nov 7 '17 at 17:49
  • @Dmitrii: Living is not a recurrence. It is not even an occurrence. It is an ongoing state. I'm living with my parents while they fumigate my house. I'm a slob, and the place is infested with rats. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 7 '17 at 18:52

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