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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

Dear Peter,

Your answer helped me a lot. I'm going to read that abstract with my little students tomorrow. Thank you very much!

However, I'm still wondering what shades of meaning are emphasized in "At eight o’clock we are usually having breakfast" and "When I get home the children are doing their homework" by using not the Present Simple but the Present Continuous.

"for something which is happening before and after a given time" - isn't it a routine but something temporary? Though I can see the special paragraph "Temporary situations" in the rule...

Sincerely,
Elena

Hello Elka0507,

The continuous form tells us that the action was in progress - i.e. that it began before a certain point in time and continued after. For example,

When I get home the children are doing their homework

means that they began doing their homwork before you arrived home and were in the process of doing it when you got there. The past continuous is similar:

I was having a bath when the phone rang

means that I started my bath before the call and was in the middle of it when the phone rang.

Simple forms suggest a unitary action, not interrupted in this way. Thus, if I say,

When I get home the children do their homework

then it suggests that the childen start their homework upon your arrival - they wait for you to get home before they start. Similarly,

I had a bath when the phone rang

suggests that the phone was a signal for you to start your bath - a rather odd thing to say.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation. I knew about the use of the Past Continuous for an action in progress interrupted by another action. But I didn't even suspect it could be applied to the Present Continuous. Much of an eye-opener.

Hi everyone. I have a question. In movies I often come across phrases with present continuous negative like 'I am not doing that again' which means that the person will not definitely do that thing again in future. It doesn't look like a planned or arranged action in future. Why do they use the present continuos in these cases then? Thank you for your help.

Hi Elena,

This is a rather unusual use, isn't it? However, it is quite correct. As to why it is used, I would say it is really just a question of convention rather than rules. You could also use 'going to' here, with the same meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your answer. Do I get it right that we can use the present continuous this way in spoken English?

Hello Elena Albena,

Yes, that is correct. It is not common in more formal English, so we would use it in conversation and informal writing rather than in formal writing.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Peter, thank you so much.

Hello everyone!

I'm still confused in using Present Simple and Present Progressive when talking "something happens again and again". For example, I have a situation like my friend (native german - speaker) uses English language to communicate with me when he wants to practice it, but usually we speak German. What variant would be correct if I say the phrase now, in the moment of speaking with my friend : "Most of the time we're speaking German" (I want to emphasize that we speak German almost always instead of practicing English) or "Most of the time we speak German"?

Thanks

Hello nastya_lenckaia,

In this context both are possible. The simple form is probably the more common, suggesting a habit or typical behaviour, while the continuous suggests a repeated action and is also possible, though less common.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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