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Another multiple-choice question:

What were you doing when Lucy phoned you?
I had just finished my work and _____ to read a book.

The answer is "was starting." I think the answer is wrong by itself. Since "start" is a transient verb, it can't be used in past continuous.


I've made a mistake, which is not the focus of the question, by writing present continuous instead of past continuous.


"The action of starting a car continues until the car has started and you release the starter." but I think it happens too fast to be considered a continuous event.

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  • Yes it is fine. Random example I made up: "I was just starting to think you wouldn't come!"
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 6:01

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Please be aware that the question has been edited and it is significantly different to when I answered it


I had just finished my work and was starting to read a book.

Q. The answer is "was starting." I think the answer is wrong by itself. Since "start" is a transient verb, it can't be used in present continuous.

I would suggest that the answer is correct


transient; adjective; lasting for only a short time; temporary:

Although an action may only last for a short time it may be continuous whilst it is happening. Temporary & Continuous are not mutually exclusive. The action of walking continues until you stop walking. The action of starting a car continues until the car has started and you release the starter.

Starting the car, Starting the race, starting a war


Q. How can “start” used in present continuous? How can “start” be used in the Present Continuous Tense?

Present Continuous: form; We use am, are, is + the -ing form of the verb

I am starting the car.

However in this case I think you are confusing the Present Continuous with the Past Continuous

Past continuous: form; We use was/were + the -ing form of the verb.

"I had just finished my work and was starting to read a book".

Past continuous: uses; Events happening at a particular time in the past We generally use the past continuous to talk about actions and states in progress (happening) around a particular time in the past. It can emphasise that the action or state continued for a period of time in the past:

Where was Donna last night? I’m not sure. I think she was visiting her family. (action) or I remember that night. You were wearing that red dress. (state)

Ref CED Past continuous


Ref CED present participle -ing

-ing: used to form the present participle of regular verbs:

present participle; a form of a verb that in English ends in -ing and comes after another verb to show continuous action. It is used to form the present continuous: In the sentences "The children are watching television", "The weather is getting colder", and "I heard him singing", "watching", "getting", and "singing" are present participles.

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  • "The action of starting a car continues until the car has started and you release the starter." but I think it happens too fast to be considered a continuous event. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 5:59
  • Starting a race is even faster. "The race is starting".
    – Brad
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 6:26
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    @mirthspritzsultryobscurantism. I think your problem is that you are taking the name of the tense literally, please look at the dictionary definition "the past continuous"; Noun [ S ] (also the past progressive) the grammatical form used for an action that someone was doing or an event that was happening at a particular time. If it is helpful to your understanding please use the other name for the Tense of "past progressive"
    – Brad
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 6:54
  • "I was starting to read a book" could be interpreted as "I was reading one of the first few pages." The verb can refer to the early stages of a process as well as the actual moment of beginning. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 9:34

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