Beginner Lesson 2: -고 있다, the present progressive tense
The present progressive tense is used when you are explaining currently on going actions or events. In other, simpler terms: -고 있다 is the Korean version of attaching the English ‘-ing’ ending onto verbs.
-고 있다 is used with verbs. It is attached directly to the verb stem. It is also often used in conjunction with the word 지금 (right now, just now) though it’s not absolutely required.
가다: 가 + 고 있다
가고 있어요 먹다: 먹 + 고 있다
먹고 있어요 보다: 보 + 고 있다
레오: 영화를 같이 볼까요? 켄: 미안해요, 지금 공부하고 있어요. Leo: Shall we watch a movie together? Ken: Sorry, I’m studying right now.
켄: 아 배고파요… 레오: 저는 슈퍼마켓에 가고 있어요. Ken: Ah I’m hungry…. Leo: I’m going to the super market [right now].
As you can see, this grammar point is very easy to use and important to know! However there are some things you should keep in mind when using this grammar point.
It can be used in the past tense and future tense, but it comes off as sounding awkward. It would be more natural to use the regular form past/future tense instead. That said, if you really really want to emphasize the fact you were/are going to do something you can use this grammar point in past/future tense.
So while “저는 밥을 먹고 있었어요” is grammatically correct, “저는 밥을 먹었어요.” flows a lot better.
Regarding verbs like 앉다 (to sit) and 서다 (to stand) (or other verbs regarding the “position” of where something is, like “to lie down”, etc): You cannot use -고 있다 with verbs like this to say that you are currently doing the action. For example:
지금 앉고 있어요. I am sitting. This sentence is correct but it means that that my knees are bent and I am in the process of moving myself onto the spot where I’m going to be sitting.
If I want to say I am currently settled in my seat and no longer moving I need to use -아/어 있다 instead.
지금 앉아 있어요. I am sitting. 편의점 옆에 서 있어요. I am standing next to the convenience store. 소파에 누워 있어요. I am laying on the sofa.
This is because these “positioning” verbs sometimes tend to act a little differently than other verbs in some situations. This is a good example of one of them. :)
So to sum: when using verbs that describe position, just remember to use -아/어 있다 instead of -고 있다.
In all the examples above, we discussed actions that were currently in progress, but you can also use this grammar point to express repeated on-going actions in Korean by adding the word 요즘 (lately, these days) to your sentence.
For example, if you regularly attend cooking classes or take taekwondo you could say:
제가 요즘 요리 학원에 다니고 있어요. These days I am attending a cooking academy.
레오 씨가 요즘 태권도를 배우고 있어요. Lately Leo is learning taekwondo.
U.S. Marine machine gunner Corporal Leonard Hayworth, 22 years old, weeps upon realizing that he and his men, who have taken heavy casualties, are out of ammunition. “His eyes swung searchingly along the edge of the ridge, then up into the rainy sky. Slow, heavy tears started down across his face.”
When it seemed that … machine-gunner Cpl Hayworth was shattered beyond all hope, a black-jawed, smiling old veteran crawled over … Sitting shoulder to shoulder with the younger man, he calmly told him how they were still holding the line … The grimy old veteran talked a feeble smile back upon the face of the corporal. Tears still streaked his face up under his helmet where the rain could not wash them away, but the Old Marine seemed not to notice. Korea, August 1950.“ (This Is War!)
Weeks after taking this picture, while still in Korea, David Douglas Duncan handed Hayworth a copy of the September 18, 1950, issue of LIFE in which the above photo appeared. “Hayworth looked at this huge picture of himself, in the biggest photo magazine in the world,” Duncan recalls. “He didn’t say anything. He just smiled. He looked like Errol Flynn, about 6-foot-3, a tall, handsome Marine. And no one’s saying anything, looking at this picture of him, crying, and an old sergeant behind him says, ‘We all cry sometimes.’ The next day, September 25th – the three-month anniversary of the start of the war – a sniper shot Corporal Hayworth between the eyes.”
Photo: David Douglas Duncan/LIFE