top of page

4 Common Adjectives to Describe Situations

Describe a project, investigation, or event using these words.

The first three words in this lesson are adjectives, which is important to remember when you are using them in order to ensure you use them correctly. Remember the two main ways that we use adjectives in English:

  1. before a noun that it describes: "I wrote a difficult test"

  2. after the "be" verb to describe the subject: "the test was difficult"

Also, remember that adjectives don't change based on time or tense - the be verb is what changes. In the example of "difficult", the word "difficult" doesn't change but the "be" verb does: "it is difficult", "it was difficult", "it has been difficult" etc.

The same is true about these adjectives below - they don't change but the "be" verb can: "it is underway", "it was underway", "it has been underway."

The three adjectives are described below:

Underway: the word "underway" can describe something that has recently started and is now happening. For example, if a soccer match started at 2pm and now it's 2:10pm, you can say: "the soccer match is underway."

This adjective is often used to mention that a process is now happening. In the examples below, the adjective "underway" describes an event that is now happening:

  • The project is underway. It started a few days ago.

  • The design contest is underway and a winner will be announced next week.

  • Our new advertising campaign is underway and advertisements are appearing on television and social media.

Note that it's more common to use "underway" in the second way that adjectives are used (after the "be" verb) as described at the beginning of this lesson: "the project is underway."

Ongoing: you may be familiar the phrasal verb "go on" which is often used to describe something happening. For example, people can ask: "what is going on?" or someone can say: "the party is still going on". These sentences mean "what is happening?" and "the party is still happening."

You can create an adjective by reversing the words so that it becomes "ongoing" and this can describe something that is currently happening:

  • "The investigation is still ongoing." (the investigation is still happening)

You can change the "be" verb to change the tense:

  • "They couldn't talk about it at that time because the investigation was still ongoing."

You should only use "ongoing" to describe something that takes time as a process:

  • The company hasn't hired anyone yet, so the hiring process is still ongoing.

  • The project is ongoing and is scheduled to be completed at the end of June.

  • The clinical trials for a vaccine are ongoing but there has been progress.

Upcoming: you may also know the phrasal verb "come up" which is often used to describe something that will happen soon. For example, if an event is going to happen next week, you can say: "the event is coming up".

Again, you can create an adjective by reversing the words so it becomes "upcoming". Then you can use this adjective to say "I have an upcoming event" or say "the event is upcoming".

  • "Everyone is excited for the company's upcoming announcement."

Some other examples of using "upcoming" as an adjective are below:

  • The candidates are trying to get more support before the upcoming election.

  • She is preparing for an upcoming press conference.

  • The company is promoting the upcoming launch of their spring collection.

The last word is a verb, which means it has a base form and can be adapted for different tenses. The verb is "unfold" so it can be used in present form "unfold", past form "unfolded", continuous form "is/was unfolding", present perfect "has unfolded", future form: "will unfold" etc.

Unfolding: the verb "unfold" describes a process or event happening, but it has a slightly different meaning than "ongoing" or "underway".

The word "unfold" describes an event that develops as it happens and reveals more and more information. For example, if you say: "I'm waiting to see how the situation will unfold", it means you are waiting to see what happens next as part of this overall event.

This verb is a metaphor and comes from the idea of "folding" something physically (like folding a t-shirt) and then "unfolding" the t-shirt. When you "unfold" the t-shirt, you reveal more and more of the shirt so eventually all parts of the t-shirt is exposed. When we say an event unfolds, it means more and more information of this event is revealed.

The subject is usually the word "event" or the word that represents the event:

  • Nobody knows how the coronavirus situation will unfold.

  • Major banks had to hold emergency meetings while the financial crisis was unfolding.

  • As the investigation about corruption is unfolding, we are learning about more people who are involved in this corruption.


  1. Can you think of any events that are upcoming? (will happen soon in the future)

  2. Can you think of any events that are ongoing or underway? (happening now?)

  3. Can you think of any events that are unfolding (revealing more and more information as it happens)

Possible Answers

  1. The Easter holiday is upcoming. (one month in the future)

  2. The rollout of COVID vaccines is underway. (it's happening now)

  3. The economic recovery is unfolding. (it's happening as a series of events that each reveal more and more)


bottom of page