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

Average
Average: 4.2 (153 votes)

Submitted by HLH on Mon, 19/02/2024 - 08:48

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Hi Peter
1- can I use adverbs of frequency with Present continuous for
( temporary and changing, growing or developing and around now )

OR just I can use adverbs of frequency with Present continuous for (before and after a specific time and again and again ) ?

2- Is this grammatical or informal ?
I use Present simple for future with (Instructions and directions) ?
example
- where do I pay ?
- You take the train into the city centre and then you take a number five bus

Hello HLH,

Re: 1, if I understand you, I'd say adverbs of frequency aren't generally used with these meanings. But could you please give some specific examples? Just so we can be sure that we're talking about the same thing. 

Re: 2, yes, these sentences are good examples of the present simple for instructions or directions. I wouldn't say there's any future sense here because in general, instructions were valid in the past, are valid now, and will be valid in the future.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ashley_20 on Sun, 04/02/2024 - 21:29

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why my answers consider wrong i put is not instead of isn't . well does't they consider the same thing ?

Hi ashley_20,

Yes, right! "Is not" is the same as "isn't".

But if you are looking at the exercise "Present continuous negatives 2", the instruction says: Use contractions. That's why only "isn't" is accepted.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jembut on Sat, 09/12/2023 - 23:07

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Why use "- ing" in this sentence? I usually say "I'll go...". How does "- ing" work?

Shall I pick up the laundry for you? Oh, no, don’t make a special journey. It’s OK. I'll be going to the shops anyway.

Hello again Jembut,

The form 'will be verb-ing' is often used when an action is seen as part of our day's itinerary. It's a little less formal than some other forms and is quite common in speech.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Prodykcja on Wed, 15/11/2023 - 00:27

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I don't get the: "something which happens again and again". Isn't Present Simple the tense which we use to phrase repetitive, routine actions?

Hello Prodykcja,

You are right in thinking that we generally use the present simple to talk about routine actions. If we use the present continuous to talk about habitual actions, another layer of meaning is added.

Typically, it's one of two or three additional meanings. First, it can show that we're thinking of actions that continue for a specific period of time. For example, if you ask me to go running with you at 7 p.m., I might say, 'I'm sorry, but I'm just getting home from work then. I can't.' The specific period of time is the time it would take to go for a run starting at 7 p.m. Note that in this case, I could also answer using the present simple, but using the present continuous shows I'm not thinking so much of a schedule as what I'm normally doing at that time. This is not particularly important most of the time; it's more just how people sometimes think.

The second additional meaning the present continuous can express is an attitude of annoyance. We very often use time adverbials such as 'always' and 'all the time' when we want to express this meaning. The sentences in the explanation above are good examples of this.

The third (though not necessarily last) meaning expresses some kind of change. For example, let's say that for years your brother has had the habit of going running two days a week. Now he is training for a marathon, so you could tell your friends 'He's running every day now'.

As I've mentioned, there are other possible meanings -- you can see more on our Continuous aspect page -- but I'd say these are the most common ones.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Bao Quach on Fri, 27/10/2023 - 16:03

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Hi, I learned that we can use the present continuous with some state verbs, but most of the time, those verbs describe ‘actions’ rather than ‘states.’ However, there is one example that baffles me, it is ‘Ella’s with us at the moment. The children are loving having her here.’ The state verb here describes emotion rather than action. And there is an explanation that the state verb in the aforementioned sentence emphasizes the situation for a period of time around the present. But, I am still confused about that. I think the present simple would be more proper, it should be ‘Ella’s with us at the moment. The children love having her here.’

Would you mind giving me further explanation about this case? As what I have been taught was that the state verb without ‘action’ meanings should be used in present simple to describe the states or feelings which are true at present.

Hello Bao Quach,

You certainly could use the present simple here, and there's really very little difference between the simple and continuous forms in this case. The use of continuous aspect here is very subjective and can communicate different things.

It could, for example, show that the speaker is trying to emphasise the temporary nature of the event, or it could be that it surprises her -- perhaps she expected the children not to enjoy having Ella at home. In this case, it would also be possible to use the simple 'don't like having her here' too, so it could again be a more emphatic way of saying it.

The continuous form is less matter-of-fact. If it were a simple observation about the children that isn't particularly important, the simple form would be the form the speaker would undoubtedly use. The fact they use the continuous form adds a more emotional or subjective flavour. I know that's very abstract, and I hope it's not confusing! It really depends on the speaker's intentions (which of course I don't know) and is difficult to describe.

But I hope that helps a little.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Selet on Sun, 22/10/2023 - 03:39

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I have heard people say "I'm agreeing with you" or "I'm disagreeing with you". The word "to agree" or "to disagree" is a stative verb. Why is it used with the progressive?

Hello Selet,

As you say, these words are usually stative. However, if a person is in the middle of speaking and is interrupted then they might use them in a progressive form. For example:

John: I thought that film was really boring!

Sue:  She's a really good director...

John:  I know you'd argue!

Sue:  Let me finish - I'm actually agreeing with you here! I was going to say that she's a really good director but this was a really bad film, not like her at all.

In a context like this the progressive is possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by renu on Thu, 05/10/2023 - 06:18

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Can I ask a question using the question word "how long" in present continuous?
How long are you doing this?
Or
How long have you been doing this?
Which one would be correct?

Hello renu,

There might be a particular context in which the first sentence (with present continuous) is possible, but in general it's not correct. If you see someone doing something that they started doing sometime in the past, generally speaking 'How long have you been doing this?' is the correct question because we use this tense to speak about something that began in the past and is still relevant to the present.

This is a challenging point for many people learning English.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Thu, 21/09/2023 - 15:53

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Hello

Can I mention a long period with the present continuous
example
this company is working in air port for 100 years

this company is working now

Hi HLH,

No, if you want to say for 100 years (or for + any time period), it should be the present perfect continuous: This company has been working in the airport for 100 years. You can read more about this on our Present perfect continuous page (linked). I hope you find it useful. 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Tue, 12/09/2023 - 12:46

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I'm reading a book about AI. This sentence doesn't necessarily mean I'm reading the book at the moment of speaking, Could you check this pls?

Hi Khangvo2812,

Yes, that's right. We understand "reading a book" as an activity that can stop and start, but still all be the same activity. This includes at the moment of speaking. Even if you are not reading the book right now, if you have already started reading it and you intend to continue reading it in the future, then you can still say "I'm reading the book". 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sokhomkim on Thu, 07/09/2023 - 03:16

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Hello, Sir!
I wanted to know if the word "now" can be used with the present simple (excluding state verbs). I found an exercise where,I think, the options should have contained the present continuous form:
- Melissa......... in a very busy office now.
A. works
B. has worked
C. was working
The answer is A (works). I think the sentence is about the action happening now. I was wondering why the present simple is used here.
Thank you very much for your time.
Best Wishes!

Hello Sokhomkim,

It's fine to use the present simple here provided you are describing a change to a permanent (or long-term) state. For example:

1. Melissa used to live in London, but now she lives in Madrid.

2. Melissa was living in London, but now she's living in Madrid.

The first sentence describes a change in Melissa's permanent/stable home; the second a change in her temporary living location.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by khaledAl5 on Tue, 01/08/2023 - 16:02

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Good morning teachers

When writing a sentence with for example “always, constantly, continually, forever” it means that something is irritating about the other people and more than normal?
And can I use this form with “I”?

For example:
A) My son is always staying up late. (Irritating for me and more than normal)
B) My daughter is constantly studying. ( it is not irritating for me, but it’s more than normal)

C) I am forever losing my keys. (Irritating and more than normal)

Moreover, can I use this form to indicate an irritating behavior even if it doesn’t happen more than normal?
For example:
A) He is always play on his phone.( not more than normal, but irritating me)

So, these sentences are fine? Also, can I use other adverbs like(often, sometimes ) to give the same idea of always, forever and the other adverbs of this kind(always, constantly, endlessly…etc).

Thank you for your help and patience.

Hello khaledAl5,

The present progressive with always (forever, constantly etc) is often used for irritating habits but it can be used in other ways too. For example, it can be used to show something we find endearing or worrying as in your example B. It's context-dependent, of course, and the tone of voice or comments like 'it's so funny' signal the speaker's intent.

It's fine to use this form in the first person. Your example is a very good one.

Other adverbs of frequency like often, sometimes and so on are used with simple aspect rather than progressive. They don't have the same suggestion of impatience or irritation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nadiayunos on Wed, 19/07/2023 - 09:35

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Hi, could you elucidate further about present continuous can be used for something which is happening before and after a specific time?

Thank you.

Hi nadiayunos,

For example, if you say:

At eight o'clock we are usually having breakfast.

It doesn't mean that the action happened only at eight o'clock, lasting for that moment only. The idea is that the action is ongoing at that specific moment - it started some time before eight o'clock, and went on after that moment.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by msh4x on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 09:39

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Hello!
I'm a bit confused with the irritating meaning of present continuous. Would you be so kind to explain these situations:
1. We can use always and some other words like constantly or continuously when we want to express irritation, but can we use words like never, rarely etc. ?
2. How can I express that someone doesn't do their homework using present continuous? Would it be correct to say 'You are always doing no homework!' or 'You are always not doing your homework!'?

Hello msh4x,

As far as I'm aware, this use of the present continuous is only used in the affirmative, not the negative. I certainly can't think of an example with 'never' or 'rarely' that sounds right to me.

The best form to use in general is the present simple. The present continuous is used when the action we're talking about is happening around the time of speaking, or at least the situation being described has just been discussed or is somehow relevant now.

Given all this, I'd recommend 'You never do your homework!' If you really wanted to use a continuous form, you could change it a bit and say something like 'You're always coming up with excuses for not doing your homework!'

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Good point. One very common way we would express that meaning would be “You keep forgetting to”. You keep missing deadlines. You keep forgetting to turn in the work. You keep neglecting to do it. Etc.

Submitted by Darelia_1325 on Thu, 02/03/2023 - 17:36

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Hi.
I want to know the difference between:
He don't play golf now.
He is not playing golf now.
Are both correct? or just one of them? Why?

Hi Darelia_1325,

The first sentence should be He doesn't play golf now (not don't).

 

We use the present simple (He doesn't play...] to describe habits. For example, I can say about myself that I go running. It doesn't mean I'm running right now but rather that running is my hobby - I do it regularly.

We use the present continuous (He isn't playing) to describe an activity right now. For example, I can say about myself that I am typing on my computer. It's what I am in the middle of right now.

 

Both sentences are possible:

He doesn't play golf now means that it was his hobby in the past but it's not his hobby any more.

He is not playing golf now means that he's doing something else - maybe he's at work or maybe he's driving his car.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

He doesn’t play golf now = This is not a routine he has now. He no longer does this activity. He used to play golf but he doesn’t play any more because he has other hobbies or he isn’t able to play any more etc. But: “He is not playing golf now”” = He is not playing golf at this moment. For example “Can he come to the phone or is he playing golf?” “No, he isn’t playing golf. I will get him for you.” Do/Does play” is the simple present tense and describes routines or general facts. “Be + playing” is progressive and means at the moment/in progress.

Submitted by Elle_Y on Sat, 25/02/2023 - 10:58

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Hello!
It’s mentioned above that “We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs”.

I thought I’d seen some words being used in that sense.

I don’t have the exact examples at the moment, but I strung some sentences together to show what I mean.
I use the verbs ‘love’, ‘hate’, and ‘smell’.

• I’m loving it (LOL it’s McDonald’s but apart from that, I feel I’ve seen structures like this, as in, “I am not loving this moment right now”.
• I’m hating this too much now to process any rational thoughts.
• I was smelling the flower before a bee emerged from it and stung me.

Please advise,
thank you!

Hello Elle_Y,

Yes, the explanation says 'normally' because there are exceptions. If you read through the comments below, you'll see many people have asked about this. Please have a look through the first few pages; I think our responses there should answer your questions. If not, please feel free to ask us again.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Yes, there are exceptions. We sometimes use stative verbs in the progressive to emphasize a currently changing or developing condition. For example: Kids grow fast. (General fact.) But “The kids are growing so fast!” Or “She often feels sick after eating sweets. (General or habitual condition.) But “I’m feeling a bit sick” emphasizes a change. “He is a bit temperamental.” (General routine or habit.) He is being especially difficult today. (Emphasizes deliberately acting in a particular way at the moment.)

Submitted by Izabely Graebin on Sun, 12/02/2023 - 19:57

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We are not running tomorrow morning. Is that phrase right? If yes, could you explaing?

Hello Izabely Graebin,

Yes, that can be correct. If you regularly go running with a friend every morning, for example, then you could say this.

We very often use the present continuous to speak about future events that we've made some agreement or arrangement about. You can see more about this on our Talking about the future page, which explains the verb forms we use to speak about the future and their differences in meaning.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by KimKH on Wed, 01/02/2023 - 14:19

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Hello,Sir.
I was wondering if the sentence is right.
e.g., More roads are being built every year. (Is it possible to use this sentence to talk about a process of changing?)
Thank you for your precious time.
Best Wishes!

Submitted by leo15722 on Tue, 15/11/2022 - 19:37

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Hi guys. I have heard that the Present Continuous tense has way more importance in its action than the Present Simple tense regarding the speaker. Do you know why?

Hello leo15722,

I'm afraid I don't really understand what that statement means. I'm not saying it's wrong, but without understanding it or seeing an example of it, I don't know what to say!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ismmohit on Sat, 12/11/2022 - 21:40

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Hello sir,
I have found this lesson very interesting and useful one?

I have come across a sentence in this lesson, "When I get home the children are doing their homework". I I'm finding it a bit difficult to understand.

Please explain whether that sentence implies: -

a) Routine action: Every day I get home (say from work), I found the children to be engaged in their homework or
b) Regular action : On a particular day, whenever I get home (say I come to home multiple times may be from office, market etc), every time I found the children to be engaged in their homework.
b) One-time action: On a particular day, when I get home (from work), I found the children to be engaged in their homework.

Regards

Mohit Gupta

Hello ismmohit,

Without any other information I would say that the correct interpretation is (c): the sentence tells use what the situation is at the time I get home on a particular occasion. It could be (b) if there was some other indication in the context such as an adverb (always, generally, typically etc).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for your prompt response.
Now, the meaning is clear to me but I still wonder when to use this sentence. Like we can use this sentence while telling a story or summarizing a book etc but other than that I haven't been able to figure out its usage.

I feel we can use its past form: "When I got home the children were doing their homework" or future form "When I get home the children will be doing their homework" more frequently.

What's your opinion on its usage?

Regards

Mohit Gupta

Hello again,

It's very hard to say when the sentence is in isolation like this. It could be a present form used for a narrative, which is quite common in anecdotes and when relating stories informally, or it could be a typical action as I said. The verb forms have their normal meanings here, so the continuous aspect suggests something in progress etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alma1 on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 22:31

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Hi!
That how I know if an action happens regulary, we use present simple, so in the following sentence given as an example:
At eight o'clock we are usually having breakfast.
Why is present continuous used?

Hello alma1,

When we use the present continuous to speak about a regular action, normally that action is happening at or near the time of speaking or we're imagining such a situation.

So in this case, it could be early in the morning and someone has asked the speaker if they can speak on the phone at 8. The speaker might respond with this sentence as a way of saying that she can't speak at 8 because she'll be having breakfast with her family.

Note that a sentence using the present simple like 'We usually have breakfast at 8 o'clock' is more general. It speaks merely about a habit. The sentence with the present continuous is responding to a more specific situation.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

could we say that the present simple is used to talk about subjet, and the present continuous is used to talk about actions

Hello Yasmine rhyme,

I understand where you're coming from with this question: the present simple tells us about a person's normal or typical behaviour so in that sense it is descriptive of the person, while the continuous form often tells us about an action at a particular moment which may not tell us anything of the person's character.

However, I would not go too far with this. There are plenty of contexts in which the present simple describes actions which may not be typical or even particularly long-term (e.g. John leads the project team right now but that might change tomorrow) and other where the continuous describes something typical or habitual (e.g. He's always arriving late for meetings!), and there are also plenty of cases where the distinction between the two is minimal (e.g. I hope to have a holiday this year vs I'm hoping to have a holiday this year).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,
I have a question: can we take the present simple for an attributive mode? because I noticed that it is used to account for the description of people and things as well as to talk about true things in both people and things which are in our case the subject. the present continuous meanwhile is able to account for present actions in general. that is to say; the present simple is not a time, it is not anchored in time like its counterpart the continuous.