Present continuous

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

Plans for next month

2nd (Sat.) – my birthday. Party!
4th – day off
10th (Sun.) – flight OS462 15.40
11th, 12th, 13th – conference, Vienna
15th – dentist 3 p.m.
22nd – Mum & Dad arrive, evening
23rd – Toni's Restaurant (make reservation!)
25th – Mum & Dad > home
29th – payday

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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

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Submitted by Faii on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 06:06

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What is the difference between "I'm reading a really good book at the moment" and "I have been reading a really good book at the moment" ?

Hello Faii,

The first sentence is correct; the second is not.

The reason for this is that 'at the moment' tells us that we are describing an action in progress currently and is not finished and to describe this we use the present continuous (I'm reading). The present perfect continuous tells us about an action which started in the past, continued up to the present and may or may not continue into the future. We do not use this form with the time marker 'at the moment'. You could use 'for a while', 'for a week', 'since last weekend' etc instead.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 06:57

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I have heard many native speakers use the verb "understand" in progressive form -like I'm not understanding it .Also ,they do the same thing with the verb "Want".Is it correct to use these verbs in progressive form ?

Hello Faii,

I would not consider those forms standard or correct. They may occur in certain humorous contexts or as part of non-standard language use in some particular areas or groups, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks.i got it.
I have another question .In my textbook it says the verb "feel" can't be used in continuous if it's a link verb and they gave the following sentence as an example.
"The water feels cold"
Can't we say "the water is feeling cold" ?

Hello again Faii,

No, we generally don't use 'feel' in this way and the standard form would be 'the water feels cold'.

 

It is possible to use 'feel' with continuous aspect when you are describing a mood or emotion and want to emphasise that it is a temporary state:

I'm feeling quite nervous about the exam tomorrow.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 12:06

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Why do we use an -ing form in these sentences?

Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Wishing you a great day, etc.

Could I also say "wish you..."?

Hello Plokonyo,

This is a form which we use only when signing off from emails or letters. It has the same meaning as 'I am wishing...'.

There are a few similar forms such as: Hoping to see you soon / Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by engtea87 on Wed, 16/02/2022 - 18:13

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Hello sir ,
I need the answer of the following examples and under which rule they are classified .
1.There are some gardens, but it is winter so nothing ............... now.
a is growing b are growing c grow d is grown
2.I usually like parties but I ............... this one very much.
don't enjoy or am not enjoying

Thanks in advance

Hello engtea87,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to tasks like this. We're here to help with explanations and examples, but we don't offer a correction service and we don't do our users' tasks for them – if we did this then we'd end up doing homework and tests for everyone!

I can tell you that both questions are asking about situations which are in progress at the moment, not general states. If you think about which very form describes an action or state in progress at the moment and not generally true then you'll have your answer :)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Alexandra1111 on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 01:21

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Hello there,
I think this lesson is really good. But there's something I don't understand. I saw a rule in a grammar book. It said we cannot use short action verbs in the present continuous, because these actions cannot last. According to the book, we can say "he is eating."but we can't say "he is awaking". Is this rule correct? But if the rule is correct, why can we say" he is buying a pen" to express the action he is doing, not in the future?I mean buy is a short action verb and the action can't last.
Really look forward to your reply
Thanks!

Hi Alexandra1111,

We can say "he is buying a pen" because we can understand the verb "buy" as having a duration. For example, we can imagine "buy" as including looking at different pens, taking the pen to the cashier, making the payment, etc., and it therefore takes some time to do.

To be honest, I'm not very familiar with the rule you mentioned, but I guess in this understanding, the verb "awake" means an instantaneous action (not just a short action) of stopping sleeping. Being instantaneous, it cannot have a duration, and it cannot be divided into stages (unlike "buy"). I imagine this is why it recommends not using it in the present continuous.

However, I can't think of any other examples of verbs like this at the moment, except possibly "arise". I would also point out that the verb "awake" is a slightly unusual example. The Cambridge Dictionary notes that it is literary in style. In everyday usage, the verbs "wake up" and "awaken" are much more common, and they are used in the present continuous, especially with a non-literal meaning of realising or becoming aware of something. For example, the Cambridge Dictionary gives this example:

-- Governments are finally waking up to the fact that the environment should be cleaned up.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/wake-up-to-sth

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for your reply. Instataneous action is exactly what I want to say. Can instataneous action like break or drop be used in present continuous?

Hi Alexandra1111,

Yes, you can certainly use the continuous forms, including present continuous, with those verbs. I don't think either of those verbs are really instantaneous, in the sense that you can certainly see a process in each action. Of course, we are talking only about one use of the continuous aspect here; there are others such as temporary situations, repeated actions and so on.

The verbs which are rarely used in the continuous are verbs describing states (be, have for ownership etc.) and opinions (like, love, hate etc.) rather than actions.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Thu, 23/12/2021 - 16:45

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Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your response.

[1] Can I use present continuous tense when talking about my personal plans I've arranged by myself without involving another person in the arrangements?
E.g.: I'm cleaning my room this afternoon and I'm decorating it tonight (= fixed plans and arrangements by myself).
Is this right?

[2] Can I use "to be going to" for future facts ? E.g.:
(a) My birthday is going to be next Sunday and I'm going to turn 50 then.
(b) Everybody is going to get old.

[3] If I use "will" for the two sentences in [2], is there any difference in the emphasis ?

I would highly appreciate your detailed explanation.
Best regards,

Hello melvinthio,

Re: 1, yes that is correct -- you can use the present continuous in this way. Teachers often refer to plans involving another person as a way of showing there's some kind of commitment, but as you've guessed, it's not absolutely necessary. If you use the present continuous here, it suggests a firm plan.

Re: 2, it sounds a little odd to me to use 'be going to' in a), but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's wrong. I'd probably use present simple for the first verb and present continuous for the following; the first talks about a calendar event and the continuous form speaks about a development I suppose. 'be going to' sounds very odd in b) to me; again, I'd probably use present continuous here, to express developing changes.

Re: 3, it would sound odd to use 'will' in these sentences, though 'will be turning' in a) would work if you're thinking about what the experience of having a birthday that day might be like.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bo Bo Kyaw on Tue, 09/11/2021 - 15:10

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Hello sir,
I would like to ask two questions sir.
1) May I know what is the difference between these two sentences " Mary is going to a new school next term. " and " Mary will go to a new school next term. " ?
2) In this sentence " George is great. He is always laughing. " , I don't understand the second part. What I have learnt is that when we use " always + -ing form " , we want to mean that something is irritating or we are complaining about something. I can't think clearly the sense which it is written. Could you please kindly explain? sir

Hello Bo Bo Kyaw,

Regarding your first question, the form with 'going to' indicates a plan. The second sentence with 'will' is also possible, but it could indicate different meanings depending on the context, so it's difficult for me to say more without knowing more. I'd suggest you have a look at our Talking about the future page (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/talking-about-t…) to see an overview of the most common verb forms we use to talk about the future. I think that should help you make sense of this.

As for your second question, it's possible to use the present continuous to talk about repeated actions if the action is somehow connected to the present moment. In this case, for example, it sounds as if people are talking about George's qualities and so he is present in their discussion at the time of speaking.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by minhoang on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 03:11

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Hi guys. Can you explain for me about the difference between something happens again & again and something happens before & after a specific time? For example, in a sentence: At midnight I'm usually reading in bed.
I think this describe about happening again & again, because they use "usually" - this describe that we repeat an activity approximately 70% every time. However, I'm wrong. Thanks for your explanation. Have a nice day.

Hi minhoang,

I think both explanation fit perfectly well here: this is an example of both something which happens repeatedly and something which happens before and after a specific time. In the exercise, however, there is a sentence which fits only the first of these, so when you solve the whole exercise I think only the second option is available.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mo on Fri, 01/10/2021 - 06:06

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Hi guys ,
"Playing " is a verb or noun ?
If it's a verb , how did we put a verb after am or is or are !
The same question for the name
If we translate it , we will not understand it !

Hello Mo,

Yes, 'playing' can be used as a verb and also as a noun. In the case of 'am playing', it's most likely a present continuous form. But, for example, in 'Playing the piano is fun', 'playing' is a noun.

Most words can be used in more than one way and/or have more than one meaning.

If there's a specific example you'd like to ask us about, please include the whole sentence.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 07:24

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Dear Team, Is there any situation we can use either the 'present continuous" or "present perfect continuous"? If yes, please give an example. He is staying with us for 2 days. He's been staying with us for 2 days. Which is the correct one? If both are correct, why?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 08:09

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hello DaniWeebKage,

We use the present continuous + for to talk about time periods stretching into the future, while we use the present perfect to describe time periods stretching back into the past.

There can be some overlap in the the present continuous can describe a time which is just beginning or one which is already in progress, but the present perfect with for does not go refer to future time, even if the action is unfinished and will continue into the future.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Peter, He is staying with us for 2 days. He will be staying with us for 2 says. He will stay with us for 2 days. 1)What's the difference between these? I'm reading a good book. I've been reading a good book. 2)What is the different? When I phoned, she was having a piano lesson.(I phoned during the lesson) When I phoned, she had been having a piano lesson.( I phoned after the lesson) 3)Is that correct? Her eyes are red.I think She's been crying. (You've explained me once) In this sentence, it doesnt matter whether the crying action is finished or not but what it implies all about is the crying action. Then, 4)why the use of Past perfect continuous implies that the piano lesson is finished? Thanks a million, I'd appreciate if you answered all my questions.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

We appreciate your keenness to learn but this isn't the kind of question we can answer in the comments section, I'm afraid.

The comments section is primarily for providing explanations relating to the tasks on the page or the explanations/information on the page. As we're teachers and we want to help learners we try to answer other questions too, including more general questions about the language. However, here you've asked four different grammar questions which each require quite detailed explanations. To answer this properly we'd need to write a comment longer than the material on the page, I suspect!

 

I don't want to suggest that you shouldn't ask questions but do please try to keep them short and directly relevant to the material on the page. We're a small team here offering a free service and we have to deal with a lot of comments from users every day. Much as we'd like to, it's just not possible for us to provide what would really be individual lessons in the comments sections like this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Wed, 23/06/2021 - 14:44

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The pandemic is rebounding... :|

Submitted by knownman on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 18:09

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Hi again guys, There is an issue with the exercise "Present Continues Negatives". When check your answers it shows wrong even though they are correct. Best wishes

Hello knownman,

I'm sorry for the confusion! I've just fixed the exercise.

Thanks very much for taking the time to tell us about this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by knownman on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 17:45

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Hi guys, You have been doing great job. I just wanted to say the exercise "present continues 3" is a little bit confusing, at least for me. I had difficulties to understand Steve's plan. I think it's difficult to understand. Best wishes
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 23/06/2021 - 07:45

In reply to by knownman

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Hi knownman,

Thanks for the comment. It's always helpful to know if things are clear or not and we'll take a look at the formating to see if we can improve it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sat, 03/04/2021 - 14:12

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Hi great team, I don't understand one thing and want to ask that. I learnt -We use while with present continuous like" While she was talking to him, the telephone rang." -And we use when with present simple like" I was preparing meal when my son knocked the door. However, I sometimes see 'while' used with present simple or 'when' used with present continuous. The sentences in the book 'When* the men were out working in the field, I helped with milking the cows. ' 'We spent long evenings talking in my sitting-room while* he played the music.' Could you clear my confused mind teacher? Best wishes to all 'British Council Team'.

Submitted by wasan0909 on Sun, 28/03/2021 - 18:45

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the planet is round I dance every weekend I walk to the bus when did you get married I have learnt how to dance since i was 13 go and take the train then walk up straight in am speaking to the manager i am making breakfast i am taking the bus i have been learning Spanish she has been sick all day they have been laughing
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Submitted by OsamaJason on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 12:53

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Dear Team, I hope this comment finds you perfectly well, Kindly, I would like to know the differences between using the "present simple" and "present continuous" in the following: 1. Telling a story (as the both share this point) 2. summarizing a book, film, play, etc. (both tenses share this). Be safe, Thanks in advance,
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 26/03/2021 - 07:07

In reply to by OsamaJason

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Hello OsamaJason,

We use either the past simple or the present simple to narrate the events of a story. We can use continuous forms (past or present) in the normal way, which means to show events in progress around a time or anoter event, or to show background events, for example.

Most narratives are expressed with past tenses. Using the present tense is an authorial choice. It can make the story sound more immediate, as if someone is telling the reader an anecdote.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PaoSande on Fri, 05/02/2021 - 01:30

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Dear Team, Considering the verb smell, could you please tell me if the following sentence is correct? I consider also the word "when" Complete the sentence. Sandra was smelling (smell) the blossom on her cherry tree when she was stung by a bee. It has been explained to me that should be "Sandra smelled the blossom on her cherry tree when she was stung by a bee" because is a simultaneous action and because we cannot use smell in present continuous as it is explained in the information given above. Thank you.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Fri, 05/02/2021 - 02:43

In reply to by PaoSande

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Hi PaoSande,

Your first sentence is correct :) Smell has several meanings:

  • The clothes smell of smoke. (meaning 'to have an odour')
  • I can smell smoke. (meaning 'to use your nose')

Can you catch the difference in meaning? Smell in the first example is stative (i.e. the state of having an odour), and stative verbs aren't usually used in continuous tenses. But in the second example, it's an action. It's an action in your example too. It's fine to use an active verb in a continuous tense. Was smelling is a background action, and she was stung by a bee happened in the middle of it.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening, Thank you very much for the explanation. and yes, yes it does. Could you please indicate me where I can find motre examples about this in the site? Best regards.

Hi PaoSande,

We don't have a page specifically for smell and other verbs of perception, but have a look at our Stative verbs page for a few more examples of verbs with different meanings for actions and states. I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khanal saroj on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 15:48

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Please write correct form of verb: I'm sorry, I ......(not understand) . Can you speak more slowly? progressive or present simple? Why?

Hello Khanal saroj,

The best form here is the present simple: 'I don't understand'. Although from one perspective it's true that you're not understanding something at the time of speaking, we almost always use a present simple form here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by x100pre_noe on Sat, 05/12/2020 - 03:18

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Excuse me, how did I should write "did" in this phrase: What time "did or does" the film is starting?

Hello x100pre_noe,

It depends whether you are asking about the past or not.

To ask about a film which has not started yet you can use either of these:

What time does the film start?

What time is the film starting?

 

To ask about a film which has already started (or has already finished) you can say this:

What time did the film start?

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maya.micheal on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 00:28

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Dear team, What (do you consider/are you considering) to be the lowest price they'll sell the house for? Do we use the present simple here or the present continuous? What is the difference,please? Thank you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 07:09

In reply to by Maya.micheal

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Hello Maya.michael,

The correct form here is do you consider.

 

Consider has more than one use. It can be a dynamic verb with the meaning 'think about'. When it is used in this way, it can be used with the progressive aspect:

I'm considering selling the car. [=I'm thinking about it/trying to decide]

 

Consider can also be used as a stative verb meaning 'have an opinion'. When it is used in this way, it cannot be used with the progressive aspect:

I consider that to be a mistake. [=I think that is/was a mistake]

 

The verb think works in a similar way, with the same meanings (I'm thinking about vs I think).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mnar zain on Thu, 04/03/2021 - 22:03

In reply to by Maya.micheal

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Hello, I want to develop my English and grammar. Do you want us to communicate together to learn more from each other? I am a girl, but an occasion
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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 13:17

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I'm typing, I'm sleeping soon, and I'm falling asleep in an hour. ;) Are these sentences correct??

Hello Rafaela1,

The second two are a little odd.

If I understand what you mean, I'd suggest 'I'm going to sleep' or 'I'm going to bed' for the second form, and 'I'll be asleep in an hour' for the third one.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 12:22

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Could you plz tell me what these two sentences actually mean? At midnight, I am usually reading a book. At midnight, I usually read a book. Thanks a lot.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

The first sentence, with the continuous form (am reading), means that you are usually in the middle of reading at midnight. In other words, you start some time before midnight and are still reading when midnight comes.

The second sentence, with the simple form (read), means that you begin reading at midnight. In other words, midnight is your usual time for starting reading.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team