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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


Present continuous 2


  • future plans or arrangements:

Mary is going to a new school next term.
What are you doing next week?

Present continuous 3


Present continuous 4


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


Present continuous questions 2


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


Present continuous negatives 2


Stative verbs

We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs. Stative verbs include:

  • verbs of thinking and feeling:
(= believe)

  • verbs of the senses:
  • others:

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


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


Hello Sir
Please help me to make this clear. I copied the verb' look' from your website and all the other verbs under'Stative' Verbs'
'look' comes under verbs of the senses'
Is it wrong to say: 1. I was looking for you everywhere .
2. I looked for you everywhere. Is this correct? Can't I use past continuous
Thank you.

Hello Lal,

'look' has many different uses. One is as a verb of perception, as in the two examples you have written here. In these cases, it's perfectly normal to use them in continuous tenses.

When 'look' is used as a stative verb, it's unusual (though not impossible) to use it in a continuous tense. For example, in 'She looks like her brother', 'look' is a stative verb and it would be wrong outside of a specific context to say 'She is looking like her brother'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please tell me which sentence is correct? First or the second. I think the first
Please let me know. The first consist of to plus verb (to phone and to write)
'To infinitives' but the second is verb plus ing. (writing) I think this is not
correct. I want to make sure.
The two sentences are:
1. It is easier to phone than to write letters.
2. It is easier to phone than writing letters. Both are correct or only one .
Thank you.

Hi Lal,

Yes, 1 is the correct one.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
With reference to your answer to el-gr's question, the plane is landing in ten minutes.'
This is something arranged but if I say 'the plane is going to land in ten minutes.' Is it all
right to call it 'intention' or plan. and it may not happen or not sure or exact. I am I correct?
Please let me know.
Thank you.

Hello Lal,

You can find explanations of the difference between the present continuous and going to form for future reference on our page on the topic: Talking about the Future.

The difference between the present continuous and the going to form is the speaker's perspective: how the speaker sees the action.

If you use is landing then you see the action as something previously arranged.

If you use going to then you have some reason to think this is going to happen. This may be something you see or hear, for example: the pilot makes an announcement, the plane starts to go down or the engines change tone.

If you use the present simple and say lands then you see the action as part of a regular timetable.


There is no difference in certainty or in reality; the difference is in the speaker's view of the action.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Could you explain this for me because I have doubts whether they are right to use.E.g.
How long are you waiting for? How long were they waiting for? Were they waiting for a long
Regarding time can one use the above tenses or should one use present perfect or past perfect?
Please let me know.
Thank you.

Hello Lal,

The first sentence describes a period of time continuing up to the present. it is an unfinished time period (it goes up to the moment of speaking and may continue) and so the present perfect is appropriate:

How long have you been waiting (for)? [we usually omit the 'for' but it can be included]


The other two sentences are dependent on context. Both describe past finished time and so use past forms, but you could use a range of alternatives, depending on the context. Past simple and continuous forms are both possible (simple views the wait as a single historical event; continuous as a process whose duration is emphasised) and past perfect forms (if the waiting was interrupted by another event in the past) are all possible. As I said, the context and speaker's intention will determine which of these forms is chosen.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! Could you explain me the difference between telling a joke using present simple and present continuous? I'd like to understand the nuance. Thank you very much in advance.

Hello Nefertiti,

As with any narrative, we generally use simple forms to describe the events unless we need to emphasise some particular aspect of the event (that it is interrupted or temporary, for example).


In most narratives we use the past simple to describe sequential events and the past continuous when we want to describe an event which is interrupted by another event. For example:

Tom was a policeman and he lived in London. One day, as he was walking to work, he saw a woman swimming in the river...

If we want to use present tenses to tell the same story then the simple and continuous forms remain:

Tom is a policeman and he lives in London. One day, as he is walking to work, he sees a woman swimming in the river...



The LearnEnglish Team