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Present continuous

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Level: beginner

The present continuous is made from the present tense of the verb be and the –ing form of a verb:

I am working
You are playing
He is talking
She is living
It is eating
We are staying
They are sleeping

We use the present continuous to talk about:

  • activities at the moment of speaking:

I'm just leaving work. I'll be home in an hour.
Please be quiet. The children are sleeping.

Present continuous 1

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Present continuous 2

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  • future plans or arrangements:

Mary is going to a new school next term.
What are you doing next week?

Present continuous 3

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Present continuous 4

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Present continuous questions

We make questions by putting am, is or are in front of the subject:

Are you listening?
Are they coming to your party?
When is she going home?
What am I doing here?

Present continuous questions 1

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Present continuous questions 2

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Present continuous negatives

We make negatives by putting not (or n't) after am, is or are:

I'm not doing that.
You aren't listening.
(or You're not listening.)
They aren't coming to the party. (or They're not coming to the party.)
She isn't going home until Monday. (or She's not going home until Monday.)

Present continuous negatives 1

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Present continuous negatives 2

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Stative verbs

We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs. Stative verbs include:

  • verbs of thinking and feeling:
believe
dislike
know
like
love
hate
prefer
realise
recognise
remember
suppose
think
(= believe)
understand
want
wish

 
  • verbs of the senses:
appear
feel
look
seem
smell
sound
taste
 
  • others:
agree
be
belong
disagree
need
owe
own
possess

We normally use the simple instead:

I understand you. (NOT I am understanding you.)
This cake tastes wonderful. (NOT This cake is tasting wonderful.)

Level: intermediate

We also use the present continuous to talk about:

  • something which is happening before and after a specific time:

At eight o'clock we are usually having breakfast.
When I get home the children are doing their homework.

  • something which we think is temporary:

Michael is at university. He's studying history.
I'm working in London for the next two weeks.

  • something which is new and contrasts with a previous state:

These days most people are using email instead of writing letters.
What sort of clothes are teenagers wearing nowadays?
What sort of music are they listening to?

  • something which is changing, growing or developing:

The children are growing up quickly.
The climate is changing rapidly.
Your English is improving.

  • something which happens again and again:

It's always raining in London.
They are always arguing.
George is great. He's always laughing.

Note that we normally use always with this use.
 

Present continuous 5

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Level: advanced

We can use the present continuous to talk about the past when we are:

  • telling a story:

The other day I'm just walking down the street when suddenly this man comes up to me and asks me to lend him some money. Well, he's carrying a big stick and he looks a bit dangerous, so I'm wondering what to do …

  • summarising a book, film or play:

Harry Potter is a pupil at Hogwarts school. One day when he is playing Quidditch he sees a strange object in the sky. He wonders what is happening

Basic level

Comments

Hi. Could I take the below actions as something that is going on now and is going to be continued for the specified time?

We're living in London for the next two years.
We're renting a house at the beach for the rest of the summer.

All the best.
Oleg

Hello Oleg,

Both sentences are fine and describe situations which are in progress and which the speaker sees as temporary, as you say.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, would you please tell me if I'm not mistaken that the reason why I can't say 'I am walking in the park for an hour today', but I can go with 'I was walking in the park for an hour yesterday' is that in present the first could imply 'I am going to walk', but in the past, should I be intent to express my will to walk I would have to say 'I was going to walk in the park for an hour yesterday'?
Best Regards,
Oleg

Hi gerol2000,

Yes, that's right. However, please note (as I explained in my answer to your other question) that the present continuous can be used in this way in certain contexts.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter. Do you mean that if, for example, I were ill I could say I have walked in the park for an hour yesterday and now (today because of this)) I feel much better?

Oleg

Hello gerol2000,

If you use a finished past time reference (like 'yesterday'), then you can't use a present perfect form. You could say any of these:

I walked in the park for an hour yesterday and now I feel much better. [finished past action]

 

I've walked in the park for an hour and now I feel much better. [past action with present result - the implication is that the walk happened in a present time frame - i.e. today]

 

I was walking in the park for an hour yesterday and now I feel much better. [past continuous used to emphasise the ongoing nature of an action]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter. But what is the difference in the meaning between 'I was walking in the park for an hour yesterday and I walked in the park for an hour yesterday' . Is it that the first is more emphatic and focus more on the ongoing action rather than time?
Oleg

And a bit more, please, Peter.
If I can say 'he is/was always complaining to his parents', would it be alright to say 'He isn't/wasn't always complaining'. Or should I just be using 'always complains or complained'? If yes, what is the reason for?
Oleg

Hello Oleg,

It's not really possible to say without any context. None of those forms are ungrammatical, but whether or not they are correct would depend on the particular context and intention of the speaker. There are too many variables for me to describe all possible situations in which they could or could not be used, I'm afraid.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter.

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