I search the definition for 'What is Alarm Clock?' and I saw this odd sentence on the Cambridge.org:

Didn't you hear your alarm clock going off this morning?

Why is the present continuous tense "going off" used instead of "went off"?


2 Answers 2


Going off is not present continuous. It is not any tense, because it is not a finite verb.

It is a participial clause, modifying the noun phrase your alarm clock, which is the object of hear. It would not be grammatical to use the finite clause went off in that context.

  • omg, I have understood what you are talkin about. I suppose "your alarm clock going off" is this the participial clause. am i right? If i cut off this partcicple clauses, I get an ordinary "past simle" question, May 4, 2020 at 19:46
  • No , going off is a participial clause, modifying the noun phrase your alarm clock. I was incorrect in describing it as the "object of hear": the whole noun phrase is the object of hear.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 24, 2020 at 19:13

The person making the statement is describing something which happened in the past. However, the situation being described continued for a while.

Let's say at 9am the speaker is referencing the alarm which started to ring at 7am. The speaker doesn't just mean that at 7am the alarm rang one time.

The speaker means that at 7am it started to ring, and continued to ring, and the owner of the alarm continued to let it ring.

That's the implicit question: "Didn't you hear it ringing? How come you let it ring and didn't get out of bed/didn't turn it off/etc."

It's implying that during the duration of time when the alarm was going off, there should have been some action (which didn't occur).

So it's not just "in the past something happened" but "in the past there was a situation during which something should have happened."

  • so why doens't: "Didn't you hear your alarm clock WAS going off this morning?" May 4, 2020 at 18:46
  • "Didn't you hear your alarm clock went off this morning?" means didn't you hear that the clock was going off, which focuses on the fact whereas "didn't you hear the clock going off "means didn't you hear the alarm while it was going off, which focuses on the moment it was going off.
    – anouk
    May 4, 2020 at 19:14

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