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My thought process:

  1. We all know that progressive tenses are, to put it simply, used to talk about an action in progress:
  • I'm having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner is in progress at 2:00)

  • I was having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner was in progress at 2:00)

  • I will be having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner will be in progress at 2:00)

  1. Simple tenses are used to say when an action starts.
  • I have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner starts at 2:00)

  • I had my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner started at 2:00)

  • I will have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner will start at 2:00)

That seems logical to me. Let's go further.

  1. In many books you can find the following explanation for "present progressive for future":

We usually use the present continuous tense for future arrangements.

e.g.

  • I'm seeing my friend tomorrow.

OK, I understand the rules so far. It is a future event that has been arranged. Perhaps I have called my friend and we agreed on meeting sometime tomorrow.

4.Now this is the part that I don't understand:

  • I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow.

I am totally lost here.

As present continuous is used to talk about future arrangements, in the sentence above I need to use the present continuous. If I change the tense to the present simple (which is used to talk about future events that are scheduled) it will change the meaning of what I am going to say. It will sound like a timetable or like a schedule, which the sentence above is not - it's just an arrangement I made with a friend of mine.

However, as the present continuous is used to talk about actions in progress, does the sentence I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow. mean that my appointment will be in progress at 2:00 or will start at 2:00?

A very important question: What do you feel would be the best way to express a future arrangement that starts at a certain time in future?

  • If you're talking about a time certain, use the simple: I see my friend at 2:00 tomorrow. If you're talking about something less formal, use the progressive: "I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow." The progressive sense implies continuing action, so no one will be surprised if you meet your friend at 1:55 and you're still talking at 2:05. (In the bizarre world of English spelling, you don't want "continues" con-TIN-uze, which is the present tense of "continue." You want "continuous" con-TIN-you-us, meaning ongoing.) – deadrat Jun 18 '15 at 21:12
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Your initial examples are not as unambiguous as you think, and that is probably leading to later confusion. The continuous effect is not as baked in as you make it out to be.

"I'm having dinner at 2:00" actually sounds like dinner is scheduled to start at 2:00.

"I was having dinner at 2:00" could it was ongoing in the past at 2:00, or the 'was' could be subjunctive introducing doubt, meaning plans were changed ("I was having dinner at 2:00, but I missed the bus so we ate at 3:00"). Or even just that plans have been cast into doubt (eg "I was going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters" -L. Skywalker)

"I will be having dinner at 2:00" could be grammatically be either ongoing or a scheduled start.

Your simple tense examples mostly work, although "I have my dinner at 2:00" sounds like it means "I have dinner at 2:00 every day" more normal usage for a specific upcoming event is "I will have dinner at 2:00"

Anyway, the main point is that the 'ongoing nature' isn't as firm a rule as you are looking for. So that's why there's nothing broken about "I'm having dinner at 2:00 tomorrow" with 2:00 being the start time.

  • 1
    Thanks for your reply elc. So, the way I understand it now - the "progressive" nature of the continous tenses is sometimes defied by various contexts that push their own meanings and express other aspects of time. Depending on where the continues form is used, the "ongoing nature" might be treated less or more literary. Am I right here? – IGO Jun 18 '15 at 22:10
  • Yes, in many of those cases only the context is going to make it clear. Verb conjugation alone is not sufficient because the conjugation is multipurpose. Bracketed words show how ambiguity could be removed. "What time is dinner?" "We will be having dinner [starting] at 2:00." "Can we go swimming at 2:10?" "We will [still] be having dinner at 2:10" – elc Jun 18 '15 at 23:56
  • It seems worth noting, these all can mean the same thing: We will have dinner at 2. We are having dinner at 2. We are going to have dinner at 2. (that is wordier, but not uncommon, it emphasizes the scheduling aspect) We will be having dinner at 2. (kind of formal sounding, but 'will be dining' would be better still for that effect) – elc Jun 19 '15 at 0:05
  • Thank you for your further comments. One thing im not sure about, though. 2. We are going to have dinner at 2. (that is wordier, but not uncommon, it emphasizes the scheduling aspect) <---- Does "going to" really have that scheduling aspect? I thought "im going to" sounds less formal and fixed than, say, the simple present and the present continues for future – IGO Jun 19 '15 at 0:22
  • You are right that 'going to' isn't formal sounding. Even less so in the vulgarized "We're gonna have dinner at 2" The difference between that and "We're having dinner at 2" is that the "going to" either emphasizes that it is actually happening (if it were a subject of doubt) or it emphasizes the timing (in the future) or it's needless extra words, that certainly happens too. – elc Jun 19 '15 at 22:56
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In this example present continuous is used with the same meaning as future continuous. This is a common way to use the present continuous tense to refer to future events, in a informal way.

"I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow."

"I'm going to see my friend at 2:00 tomorrow."

Both mean the same. As simple as that :)

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