I have read the book Advanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings. One of the uses of the present continuous is: To talk about particular actions or events that have begun but haven't ended at the time of speaking, we use the present continuous. For example:

The car isn't starting again.

My question is: Is this use similar to the use the present perfect, and can we replace this sentence like this:

The car hasn't started again.

The author wrote that one of the uses of the present continuous is when to talk about action has begun and hasn't ended at the time of speaking, this is clearly that is similar to the use of present perfect, isn't right?

2 Answers 2


Both sentences are different. The comparison should be something like

(1) The car isn't starting.
(2) The car hasn't been starting.

However, these are quite different.
Present continuous is used for action happening right now. (Not in the past.)

The car isn't starting.

Present perfect continuous is used for an event that began in the past and is still in progress in the present.

The car hasn't been starting.

Note that in both tenses, the action is not yet completed, but the main difference here is that the former gives you information about something happening right now (event in the present) and the latter tells you about something that started in the past and is still in progress.


I'm learning a new language. (It's happening right now and not in the past.)
I've been learning a new language. (It's still happening in the present but first, the action happened in the past.)

  • +1 for pointing out the difference between the present continuous and the present perfect continuous.
    – user20792
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 2:11

I have a bit different view.

  1. The car isn't starting again.

This sentence doesn't work well without the adverb again as the present continuous expresses that the action of the engine not starting/igniting is being repeated in a certain period of time. Let's say you failed to ignite the engine and you got it fixed yesterday. But, the car didn't start again this morning and that's when you use the above sentence.

Let's take a look at another example:

How long have you been running? (I have been running) For 10 years.

"I have been running for 10 years" doesn't mean a continuous action as in "I have been reading a book for an hour". You can read a book for an hour without taking any rest, but you can't run for 10 years. The above usage expresses a repetition of running on a regular basis, i.e. 10 miles per week, or 20 miles per week or month.

Now, most important thing is if your car doesn't start for the first time since you bought the car, you should not use the present continuous. You should use the present simple:

My car doesn't start. The engine doesn't start. *My car is not starting. *The engine is not starting.

The sentence with * is misleading as it might indicate the car/engine didn't start in the past once or several times.

  1. The car hasn't started again.

Compared with "the car isn't starting again", the sentence contains a different information. No. 1 means you are trying to start a car now, but No. 2 means the car didn't start in the past (you have an experience of it) and the experience was repeated in the past. It could be from a few seconds ago to a few hours ago. Contrast it with:

The car has started again.

This sentence means the engine was ignited at some point in the past, probably not long ago. Again, it doesn't express the present action.

Compare it with:

The car didn't start 10 minutes ago, but it has just started.

There is a difference in using the "present continuous" and "present perfect".

No. 3. *The car hasn't been starting.

The verbs such as start, begin, finish, etc. are an event verb, however, they are different from other verbs in that it doesn't take a long time comparatively to start/begin/finish something. For example:

*I have been starting to have/finishing having lunch.

You could have (eat) lunch for an hour, but you start or finish it in an instance. That's why it is awkward (even nonsensical) to use the present perfect continuous for those verbs. Contrast it with:

I have been preparing for lunch. I have been trying to start the work.

It could take an hour or more to prepare for nice lunch or try to start something. That's why you can use the present perfect continuous for the above examples.

I hope you can see the difference clearly now.

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