English English language Grammar Usage Writing

A progressive future

Q: I’m an American living in London. When I take the tube and approach a station closed for repairs, a message over the PA says: “This train will not be stopping at the next station.” It makes me wince. Is this passive usage British?

A: The usage you’ve noticed is common to both British and American English. It’s quite ordinary, not remarkable at all.

Here the speaker uses the future progressive tense, “will not be stopping,” instead of the simple future tense, “will not stop.” And it’s not a passive construction, as we’ll explain later.

The progressive tenses emphasize that an action is, was, or will be continuous and ongoing for a period of time in the present, past, or future.

The usage in that announcement in London refers to an action (in this case, a nonaction) that will be taking place during a period of time in the future.

The future progressive is often heard in travel announcements. Airplane pilots, for example, may say, “We will be landing at …” instead of “We will land at ….”

And we can recall hearing this tense routinely in the New York City subway system: “This train will be making all express stops” … “This train will not be stopping at 14th Street.”

The progressive tenses all include a form of the verb “be” plus (in the active voice) a present participle. Here are the progressive tenses in the active voice (we’ll put the negative in brackets):

present progressive: “This train is [not] stopping.”

past progressive: “This train was [not] stopping.”

future progressive: “This train will [not] be stopping.”

present perfect progressive: “The train has [not] been stopping.”

past perfect progressive: “The train had [not] been stopping.”

future perfect progressive: “The train will [not] have been stopping.”

As we’ve mentioned, none of those are passive constructions. Here, finally, are some passive examples (which use the past participle):

simple future: “This train will not be stopped.”

present progressive: “This train is not being stopped.”

past progressive: “This train was not being stopped.”

There’s no idiomatic way of using the future progressive, the tense that made you wince, in the passive voice.

The result would be a train wreck: “This train will not be being stopped at the next station.”

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