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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

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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

Comments

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'.

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

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,

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

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.

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

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

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