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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

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

Comments

Hello Roseinink,

We can use present tenses whenever we are telling a story and we want to make it more immediate. However, this is generally only done in certain types of storytelling such as jokes, informal anecdotes and so on.

A joke might start like this:

A man walked into a bar and asked the barman for a glass of water. The barman asked why he wanted water and the man said...

If we were telling the joke to friends we might want to make it more of a performance and say:

So this guy walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water. The barman asks why he wants water and the guy says...

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
This sentence is correct?
"what will you do next week?"
Thanks in advance.

Hello Ricardo A,

It is grammatically correct, though whether it is correct in a specific context is another issue. As is described above, to speak about the future, we often use a variety of forms besides 'will' -- see our Future plans and talking about the future pages for more information on these different forms and how they are used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
In this part "for something which is new and contrasts with a previous state", can we use "present simple" in these two sentences with the same meaning?

Hello Zth,

Yes, you could use present simple in the example sentences there. They would have a similar meaning, but the present simple doesn't include the idea of a change or contrast in the same way that the present continuous does.

Other words in the sentence -- for example, in the first one, 'these days' -- can imply a change and so the sentence could still have the same meaning if you used the present simple. But it's more common for people to use the present continuous, as it reinforces the idea of change, and sometimes there are no other words or phrases that express this idea.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!! I'd like to ask for temporary actions. Can I use present simple instead of present continuous to express temporary action or I should use only present continuous in this case? For example, "He is working as waiter until he finds another job" and "He works as waiter until he finds another job"

Hello Alex,

The present simple isn't used to speak about temporary actions in this way -- you should use the present continuous instead.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Alex H,

'I'm staying in New York for 3 months' could be used when you are already living there and explaining your situation, or also used to speak about the future, i.e. before you go there. See our talking about the future page for more on this last use of the present continuous.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Alex H,

Yes, it can be used in that situation (when you are already in New York), or in a situation when you haven't yet arrived there but you have plans to live in NY in the future.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

When do we use present simple or present continuous with the adverb"nowadays"?
e.g. What sort of clothes are teenagers wearing nowadays?
I forget things more often nowadays.

Many thanks.

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