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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

Basic level

Comments

Hi there,

I have frequently heard the phrase 'I am working every afternoon' being used by native speakers. However, it seems not to be in keeping with the general rules. Is this an exception, or does it simply mean they want to stress the time adverbial 'every afternoon'?

Hi Fowler,

You're right that this is a common usage. The present continuous (I am working) can describe future arrangements – that is, future actions that are already confirmed and organised. This usage strongly implies that other people (e.g. coworkers or managers, in this case) are aware of the arrangements, and some kind of preparation was involved (e.g. drawing up a schedule). 

Although every afternoon can potentially include a past timeframe, with this usage of the present continuous it refers to a future timeframe: every afternoon from now on.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, The LearnEnglish Team,

I have been studying Present Simple and Present Continuous lately, and I have learned that both of these tenses can be used to describe an action that happens repeatedly. This is quite confusing to me, because for instance, among the examples the team listed above, there are sentences like this: "It's always raining in Britain" and "George is great. He's always laughing".

If I use Present Simple for these two examples ( It always rains in Britain", "He always laughs"), whether there are any differences in the meaning or is it correct?

Or if I have wrongly understood the usage of these two tenses, could you please clarify for me. Thank the Team so much!

Hi Sophia,

It's a good question! These sentences are all grammatically correct, but there are slight differences in the meaning.

  • It always rains in London.
  • It's always raining in London.
  • He always laughs.
  • He's always laughing.

The present simple is used to express facts, so the present simple sentences sound like you are describing the repeated action factually or objectively.

 

The present continuous sentences don't have this factual meaning. Instead, they suggest more subjectivity in the description, giving more of a sense that this is how the speaker experiences or feels about the repeated action. The present continuous is often used with always, for example, to complain about things, e.g. He's always making noise when I'm trying to sleep. Saying He always makes noise ... (present simple) is also possible, but sounds more like a factual description and less like a complaint. 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, The LearnEnglish Team,

Jimmy was riding on a donkey with his father walking alongside.

In the light of recent incidents, we are asking our customers to take particular care of their personal belongings.

In each of these two sentences, why is the continuous tense used instead of the simple tense (in the 1st) and the present perfect (in the 2nd)?

Appreciate your help.

Hello LilyLinSZ,

Remember that the choice of aspect (continuous or perfect) is often context dependent, so it can be hard to identify the reason with decontextualised examples.

 

In your first example, the two events happen simultaneously and provide a background for another (shorter) event. This could be something stated (when I arrive) or implied (when I looked at them / at that moment). I can't be sure without seeing the sentence in context.

 

In your second example, the sentence is aimed at customers. In other words, the sentence itself is the way in which the company (presumably) is asking its customers to take care. The continuous is used because it is an action in progress.

If the sentence were not aimed at customers, then the present perfect (...we have asked...) might be appropriate. For example, it could be director explaining company policy to his or her colleagues.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

At eight o'clock we are usually having breakfast.
When I get home the children are doing their homework.
I'm unable to understand the above sentences so can you elaborate this in east language what does it mean

2) and I have also a question while telling story to my son can I say like that "once upon a time I am walking alone on the road"
Examples two.

Hello Aquibjamal,

We're happy to help you with this, but please explain to us more specifically what it is that you do or don't understand. 'get home', for example, means 'arrive home'.

It's not correct to use the present continuous in a story that begins with 'once upon a time'. In such a context, we always use some kind of narrative past tense such as the past simple, past continuous or past perfect.

It is possible to use present tenses to speak about past events -- it's just unusual after the phrase 'once upon a time'. We don't usually use this phrase to speak about our personal lives -- instead it's typically used at the beginning of traditional stories.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, May I know why is the present continuous tense is used in the following sentences?

Computer City has announced that it is opening four new shops next month. (How about simple future or future continuous?)

The changes that have been introduced are being seen as a step backwards. (How about are seen or have been seen?)

the team concluded that third parties receive information about the device people are using, their locations, and possibly even when they are interacting with it. (How about 'the device people use'; 'even when they interact with it'?)

Keeping taxpayers in the dark about how their money is being spent is not how government should operate. (How about '...money is spent...'?)

Many thanks.

Hi LubNko525,

Interesting questions! Let me try to explain.

 

The first example (Computer City) uses present continuous (is opening four new shops) to show a planned future action. It's used when the action is already arranged, organised or scheduled. It gives a sense of this 'plannedness' of the action. Yes, future continuous is possible too: ... will be opening ... It also conveys this 'plannedness'. You could use will here too: ... will open four new shops. But the meaning's a bit different. This is a simple factual statement, and doesn't contain that 'plannedness' in its meaning.

 

In your other sentences, the using the present continuous gives a sense that the actions are ongoing. That is, they are not momentary actions or finished actions, but ones that are still continuing.

 

All the alternatives you suggested are grammatically correct, but they have slightly different meanings. They don't have the 'ongoing action' meaning. For example, in sentence 2:

  • If you use are seen, it presents the action ('be seen') as a general fact that is unlikely to change.
  • If you use have been seen, it presents the action as a completed one.

So, by using are being seen, the speaker presents the action as something going on now, which suggests that it that can end or change at some point.

 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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