How to Use the Present Progressive to Complain in English

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

ESL Complaint

Who doesn’t complain now and then? It can be enjoyable, or at least helpful at times. Sometimes it just feels good to get your complaints out in the open. Or, as writer Jane Wagner jokingly wrote:

“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” - Jane Wagner, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

I think she's onto something! What if I told you that you can use a specific verb tense to add some power to your complaint—and to sound more American?

Using the Progressive to Complain

We usually use the progressive tenses (to be verb + verb + ing) to talk about actions that are happening in the present moment (I am writing right now) or even future plans (I am having a party on Friday), or the past (He was talking on the phone when I walked in the room). However, you can also use the progressive tenses to describe something that bothers you.

English speakers do this a lot, and it looks like this:

My son is always playing on his cell phone.

Now, as you might know, the word always usually triggers the simple present:

I always wake up at 5am.

He always eats his lunch at his desk.

But using the present progressive means that this behavior troubles me; it’s a complaint of mine.

Again, it looks like this:

My brother is always picking on me.

Here are some other examples:

My daughter is always forgetting her backpack.

Ronald’s boss is always running late for the Monday meeting.

Using the Past Progressive to Complain

You can also complain by using the past progressive. When you do this, you usually include a consequence to the action.


He was always running late to work, so he got fired.

Mia was always playing on her iPad, so her mom took it away.


One final note on the art of complaining, Americans usually stress the word always when making a complaint. It adds more gusto. Practice saying the sentences above by stressing the word always in each sentence.

In Conclusion

So, what’s been annoying you lately? I'm sure that you can find something to complain about! I would love to hear your examples.


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