Hi^^ I'm a student learning English. I learned in a class that either present or past progressive can be used to express a negative reaction to a situation. The explanations on the lecture note professor gave are written like

The present progressive is often used with always to express a negative reaction to a situation.

He's always calling me "Sweetie." I hate that name.

The past progressive with always can also be used to criticize actions we feel are annoying, or which we wish to exaggerate.

At school, he was always getting into trouble.

I confused because the explanation about past progressive shows that we use past progressive to criticize actions we feel(present) are annoying. Does past progressive with always have the same tense with the present progressive with always?

  • No, the getting into trouble that he did happened in the past, but we feel that "getting into trouble" is annoying in general (and therefore, still true in the present).
    – oerkelens
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:20
  • You mean he used to getting into trouble(although I don't know how he's now) and I still feels him getting into trouble as irritating.Is it right?
    – porong
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:27
  • Him getting in trouble, or anyone getting in trouble. It is "getting in trouble" that we feel is annoying, not just the fact that he used to do it.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:33
  • So, the past progressive sentences express action that happened in the past and people consider that action annoying generally.
    – porong
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:49
  • I only explained why the present tense feel was used. The rest of the rule is interesting, but you should not think that is what the past progressive means!!!! It is simply used because something was happening repeatedly or during some period of time in the past. Even with always, that does not have to be anything annoying, but it can mean that.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


There are a couple of misunderstandings here.

The first is that although the BE always VERBing construction is often used when you are annoyed at the action, it does not imply that you are annoyed. You can also use the construction when your attitude is one of pleasure or admiration:

Whenever I see her she's always smiling.
Even when he's hurt he's always trying harder than any other player on the field.

The second is that even when BEpast always VERBing is used in a context expressing annoyance, it does not ascribe your annoyance to any particular time. It perhaps more likely to express past annoyance than present annoyance:

He was always getting into trouble, and getting us into trouble with him. I stopped running around with him.

The situation's different, of course, with exaggeration, which is by definition a property of what you are saying now.

The lesson in this is that you have to be careful to distinguish between what a particular form of expression can mean and what it does mean in any particular context. Much, perhaps even most meaning in our use of language derives from the situation rather than the linguistic forms.

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