I'm trying to understand use-case of Present Continuous. I've read BBC Grammar Challenge. I don't understand using of the Present Continuous in the following case:

When I'm speaking I often distort some words.

The action (speaking in that case) is not occurring just now or around now. It occurs in general.

Is it true that we use Present Continuous tense to describe the process of action itself (speaking in my case) instead of the action in general?

  • It is actually occurring now relative to the when in the sentence that establishes the reference time.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 4:57
  • @Jim It is unclear. Why the Future Continuous construction does not establish the reference time? I mean the following: When I'll be speaking I'll distort some words. Please explain that, if my misunderstanding is clear. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 5:08
  • 2
    Often forces us to read the sentence as habitual (it's something this speaker often does). The progressive (also known as continuous) invites us to think of those particular moments when the speaker is speaking. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 5:20

1 Answer 1


With reference to "An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage" by Leech, Cruickshank and Ivanic, we can use the present continuous form to describe a habit that is temporary, or for annoying habits that go on and on. The distortion of words can fit either category (you could be improving, or you could be somehow stuck with it).

A habit is something you have been doing in the past, and are probably going to continue doing, at least in the near future. So crucially, this tense refers to the past as well as the future.

The reason the Future Continuous would not be appropriate is because it only points to the future. "When I'll be speaking" points only to the future.

I hope this is helpful.


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