<i>The king is on huntunge</i>
This paper addresses the diachronic development of two periphrastic constructions in Old and Middle English, <i>He wæs huntende </i>and <i>He wæs on huntunge, </i>into the progressive in Modern English. The literature on the origin of the progressive offers several hypotheses for explaining the coalescence of the two constructions. This paper offers a new hypothesis based on the consideration that the first construction, consisting of <i>be </i>+ present participle, developed into the progressive, and that the second construction, consisting of <i>be </i>+ on + verbal noun, was originally a construction denoting absence. The evidence for the coalescence comes from a partial overlap in the semantics of the progressive and the absentive, and the fact that progressives often originate from spatial constructions.