For example, I saw a sentence that says: in the 19th century, Europeans wanting to immigrate to the USA could do so as long as they did not have any infectious diseases.

So , I’m confused. Why did they use want+ing in this sentence?

  • What is a "non-progressive" verb?? – tchrist Jul 24 '19 at 14:29

The 'rule' was probably given to help students avoid sentences like

*I am owning this beautiful new car.

*I am wanting to go home.

(Though note that even for the progressive usage, the 'rule' is not totally accurate – "If anyone is wanting a fresh cup of coffee ..." is probably totally acceptable nowadays in informal speech. It's a hedged, softened, variant.)

But in the given example we have what is variously known as a [present] participial clause, or phrase in traditional grammar, here used as a post-modifier of a noun. There isn't any restriction forbidding ing-clauses with punctive (non-durative) verbs being used:

The bodies of soldiers dying at the front were often recovered during cease-fires.

Shattering under the impact, the medieval window would now be no more than a memory.

'Want' is far less punctive a verb than the verbs in these two examples.

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You need to distinguish between the present participle ending in "ing", and the verb phrase, usually called "continuous" or "progressive", which is constructed using that participle: they are very different in usage.

Pretty well any verb has a participle in "-ing" (the only exceptions are modals like can, will, should). This participle can introduce a clause with adjectival or adverbial force, such as "wanting to immigrate to the USA" in your example: the whole clause describes or limits the noun "Europeans", so it has adjectival force. It denotes something happening at the same time, but not necessarily continuously or "progressively".

The "progressive" form is a quite different construction, which happens to use the same form of the verb. You can distinguish it because it always has a form of BE preceding the "-ing" word.

As your teacher says, there are classes of verb which are not normally used in the progressive: want is an example.

Advanced usage note: Many verbs that do not normally take the progressive can do so, for example where the speaker wants to emphasise that it is happening at the precise moment. But these forms are rare in writing.

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"Want" is usually non-progressive. As you said, there are exceptions. This isn't uncommon.


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