Magazine article The Masthead

The Progressive Romantic

Magazine article The Masthead

The Progressive Romantic

Article excerpt

WHICH COMMENT would you prefer from your sexual partner?

I am going to be romantic tonight. I will be romantic tonight.

Which statement would you prefer?

My partner is romantic. My partner is being romantic.

Knowing which comments are preferable depends on an understanding of progressive tense, which results from preceding a verb ending in "ing" with a form of "to be" ("am," "is," "are," "was," "were," "be" or "being").

Progressive-tense verbs refer to a limited phase of time, not to a habitual state. The partner who "is being romantic" is romantic at a particular moment; at other moments the partner may or may not be romantic, even may never be romantic again. The partner who "is romantic," however, is habitually romantic.

Whereas non-progressive tenses -- such as present, past, future, and perfect tenses -- place one outside an event, seeing the action as a whole, progressive forms place one inside part of an event. The partner who says he or she "is going to be romantic tonight" may not be romantic that night because the statement refers only to the intention of the partner at that moment. If the partner is not romantic that night, the partner has not necessarily lied: At a later moment the partner's intention may change. The original intention of the statement may have been even to scare away the other partner, in fact, to prevent having to be romantic that night.

"I will be romantic tonight," however, is a prediction of what will happen. If the partner is not romantic, the partner has not told the truth.

How do the following pairs of statements differ? …

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