Present continuous

Learn about the present continuous and do the exercises to practise using it.

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

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Hi!
That how I know if an action happens regulary, we use present simple, so in the following sentence given as an example:
At eight o'clock we are usually having breakfast.
Why is present continuous used?

Hello alma1,

When we use the present continuous to speak about a regular action, normally that action is happening at or near the time of speaking or we're imagining such a situation.

So in this case, it could be early in the morning and someone has asked the speaker if they can speak on the phone at 8. The speaker might respond with this sentence as a way of saying that she can't speak at 8 because she'll be having breakfast with her family.

Note that a sentence using the present simple like 'We usually have breakfast at 8 o'clock' is more general. It speaks merely about a habit. The sentence with the present continuous is responding to a more specific situation.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there!

I was wondering about an example and which use of the present continuous you think that would be:

When I'm not working, I like to go out for a drink.

What would you say that is - a temporary action at the moment of speaking, a background action of some sort? It sounds natural and intuitive but I'm not sure why we use it.
Thank you!

Hello foefum,

The basic idea here is that something happens (I go for a drink) in a situation (when I'm not working). In other words, the clause 'when I'm not working' describes a situation when the main action (going out for a drink) often happens.

A similar combination is common in past tenses, where we often use a past simple form and a past continuous form. For example, in 'When I was walking home, it started to rain', the situation was that I was walking home and then something happened.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for taking the time to reply.
Yes, that makes sense. I also thought of that but with the past tenses it's a real situation happening. In the example I gave it's a habit or more of a hypothetical one, I think
Like I guess we can say
When I'm not at work, I go for a drink
If I'm not at work, I go for a drink (that doesn't sound as natural, I suppose)

So, I was thinking it was probably static vs. dynamic verbs here.
Otherwise, we are talking about each time I work or don't work and it should be present simple if we look at it this way - habitual actions/a routine.
A background to the main action, as you said, makes a lot of sense...
but with the past tenses one action interrupts another real one.
The example with the present tenses is more like a conditional, I feel.
Then again, maybe we can have a background action as a condition too.
Does that make sense to you?

Hello foefum,

I can see what you mean when you say a background action is like a condition. I'm not sure I'd think of it that way, but I'm not sure I can really say it's wrong either. Re: your idea of static vs dynamic verbs, I assume you mean that 'I like to go out' is static and 'I'm not working' is dynamic. Perhaps I've not understood your point, but I don't think that's all that relevant here.

I think part of what makes this difficult is that we're talking about a sentence that has no context. If we knew what the situation was and what the speaker was thinking and intending to communicate when they said it, that would definitely help.

It sounds to me as if you understand this grammar, but if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,
In the present continuous tense, we can say" Is he not coming now? " as a negative interrogative sentence.

I want to know about this sentence:
Isn't he coming now?
Is this belong to the same tense?
Thank you

Hi mehla A,

Yes, both of those questions are fine and they are examples of questions in the present continuous - this is the present tense with continuous aspect.

These questions ask about something which is happening right now (at the moment of speaking). The negative form shows the speaker is surprised:

  • Is he coming now? [a normal question]
  • Isn't he coming now? [I'm surprised - I expected him to come but something has changed]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

please can I ask which tense this sentence should be? " Thought/ Having thought/ To think/ Thinking the boy might be hungry, I offered him something to eat".

Hi Widescreen,

"Thinking" is the best option here. Using the -ing form shows that the action (thinking) happens simultaneously with the other action (offering), or as the reason of it. For more information about this, have a look at our Participle clauses page. I hope it's useful!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Can we say " I'm working in a restaurant for two months " if I want to mean that it's temporary?

Another question-In my textbook,it says we can use Present continuous with words like "this year,this week"
"The company I work for isn't doing very well this year ".
They gave it as an example.
My question is can we can Present progressive continuous In the above sentence?

What is the difference between "I'm reading a really good book at the moment" and "I have been reading a really good book at the moment" ?

Hello Faii,

The first sentence is correct; the second is not.

The reason for this is that 'at the moment' tells us that we are describing an action in progress currently and is not finished and to describe this we use the present continuous (I'm reading). The present perfect continuous tells us about an action which started in the past, continued up to the present and may or may not continue into the future. We do not use this form with the time marker 'at the moment'. You could use 'for a while', 'for a week', 'since last weekend' etc instead.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have heard many native speakers use the verb "understand" in progressive form -like I'm not understanding it .Also ,they do the same thing with the verb "Want".Is it correct to use these verbs in progressive form ?

Hello Faii,

I would not consider those forms standard or correct. They may occur in certain humorous contexts or as part of non-standard language use in some particular areas or groups, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks.i got it.
I have another question .In my textbook it says the verb "feel" can't be used in continuous if it's a link verb and they gave the following sentence as an example.
"The water feels cold"
Can't we say "the water is feeling cold" ?

Hello again Faii,

No, we generally don't use 'feel' in this way and the standard form would be 'the water feels cold'.

 

It is possible to use 'feel' with continuous aspect when you are describing a mood or emotion and want to emphasise that it is a temporary state:

I'm feeling quite nervous about the exam tomorrow.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Why do we use an -ing form in these sentences?

Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Wishing you a great day, etc.

Could I also say "wish you..."?

Hello Plokonyo,

This is a form which we use only when signing off from emails or letters. It has the same meaning as 'I am wishing...'.

There are a few similar forms such as: Hoping to see you soon / Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir ,
I need the answer of the following examples and under which rule they are classified .
1.There are some gardens, but it is winter so nothing ............... now.
a is growing b are growing c grow d is grown
2.I usually like parties but I ............... this one very much.
don't enjoy or am not enjoying

Thanks in advance

Hello engtea87,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to tasks like this. We're here to help with explanations and examples, but we don't offer a correction service and we don't do our users' tasks for them – if we did this then we'd end up doing homework and tests for everyone!

I can tell you that both questions are asking about situations which are in progress at the moment, not general states. If you think about which very form describes an action or state in progress at the moment and not generally true then you'll have your answer :)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello there,
I think this lesson is really good. But there's something I don't understand. I saw a rule in a grammar book. It said we cannot use short action verbs in the present continuous, because these actions cannot last. According to the book, we can say "he is eating."but we can't say "he is awaking". Is this rule correct? But if the rule is correct, why can we say" he is buying a pen" to express the action he is doing, not in the future?I mean buy is a short action verb and the action can't last.
Really look forward to your reply
Thanks!

Hi Alexandra1111,

We can say "he is buying a pen" because we can understand the verb "buy" as having a duration. For example, we can imagine "buy" as including looking at different pens, taking the pen to the cashier, making the payment, etc., and it therefore takes some time to do.

To be honest, I'm not very familiar with the rule you mentioned, but I guess in this understanding, the verb "awake" means an instantaneous action (not just a short action) of stopping sleeping. Being instantaneous, it cannot have a duration, and it cannot be divided into stages (unlike "buy"). I imagine this is why it recommends not using it in the present continuous.

However, I can't think of any other examples of verbs like this at the moment, except possibly "arise". I would also point out that the verb "awake" is a slightly unusual example. The Cambridge Dictionary notes that it is literary in style. In everyday usage, the verbs "wake up" and "awaken" are much more common, and they are used in the present continuous, especially with a non-literal meaning of realising or becoming aware of something. For example, the Cambridge Dictionary gives this example:

-- Governments are finally waking up to the fact that the environment should be cleaned up.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/wake-up-to-sth

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Alexandra1111,

Yes, you can certainly use the continuous forms, including present continuous, with those verbs. I don't think either of those verbs are really instantaneous, in the sense that you can certainly see a process in each action. Of course, we are talking only about one use of the continuous aspect here; there are others such as temporary situations, repeated actions and so on.

The verbs which are rarely used in the continuous are verbs describing states (be, have for ownership etc.) and opinions (like, love, hate etc.) rather than actions.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your response.

[1] Can I use present continuous tense when talking about my personal plans I've arranged by myself without involving another person in the arrangements?
E.g.: I'm cleaning my room this afternoon and I'm decorating it tonight (= fixed plans and arrangements by myself).
Is this right?

[2] Can I use "to be going to" for future facts ? E.g.:
(a) My birthday is going to be next Sunday and I'm going to turn 50 then.
(b) Everybody is going to get old.

[3] If I use "will" for the two sentences in [2], is there any difference in the emphasis ?

I would highly appreciate your detailed explanation.
Best regards,

Hello melvinthio,

Re: 1, yes that is correct -- you can use the present continuous in this way. Teachers often refer to plans involving another person as a way of showing there's some kind of commitment, but as you've guessed, it's not absolutely necessary. If you use the present continuous here, it suggests a firm plan.

Re: 2, it sounds a little odd to me to use 'be going to' in a), but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's wrong. I'd probably use present simple for the first verb and present continuous for the following; the first talks about a calendar event and the continuous form speaks about a development I suppose. 'be going to' sounds very odd in b) to me; again, I'd probably use present continuous here, to express developing changes.

Re: 3, it would sound odd to use 'will' in these sentences, though 'will be turning' in a) would work if you're thinking about what the experience of having a birthday that day might be like.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir,
I would like to ask two questions sir.
1) May I know what is the difference between these two sentences " Mary is going to a new school next term. " and " Mary will go to a new school next term. " ?
2) In this sentence " George is great. He is always laughing. " , I don't understand the second part. What I have learnt is that when we use " always + -ing form " , we want to mean that something is irritating or we are complaining about something. I can't think clearly the sense which it is written. Could you please kindly explain? sir

Hello Bo Bo Kyaw,

Regarding your first question, the form with 'going to' indicates a plan. The second sentence with 'will' is also possible, but it could indicate different meanings depending on the context, so it's difficult for me to say more without knowing more. I'd suggest you have a look at our Talking about the future page (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/talking-about-t…) to see an overview of the most common verb forms we use to talk about the future. I think that should help you make sense of this.

As for your second question, it's possible to use the present continuous to talk about repeated actions if the action is somehow connected to the present moment. In this case, for example, it sounds as if people are talking about George's qualities and so he is present in their discussion at the time of speaking.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi guys. Can you explain for me about the difference between something happens again & again and something happens before & after a specific time? For example, in a sentence: At midnight I'm usually reading in bed.
I think this describe about happening again & again, because they use "usually" - this describe that we repeat an activity approximately 70% every time. However, I'm wrong. Thanks for your explanation. Have a nice day.

Hi minhoang,

I think both explanation fit perfectly well here: this is an example of both something which happens repeatedly and something which happens before and after a specific time. In the exercise, however, there is a sentence which fits only the first of these, so when you solve the whole exercise I think only the second option is available.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi guys ,
"Playing " is a verb or noun ?
If it's a verb , how did we put a verb after am or is or are !
The same question for the name
If we translate it , we will not understand it !

Hello Mo,

Yes, 'playing' can be used as a verb and also as a noun. In the case of 'am playing', it's most likely a present continuous form. But, for example, in 'Playing the piano is fun', 'playing' is a noun.

Most words can be used in more than one way and/or have more than one meaning.

If there's a specific example you'd like to ask us about, please include the whole sentence.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Team, Is there any situation we can use either the 'present continuous" or "present perfect continuous"? If yes, please give an example. He is staying with us for 2 days. He's been staying with us for 2 days. Which is the correct one? If both are correct, why?

Hello DaniWeebKage,

We use the present continuous + for to talk about time periods stretching into the future, while we use the present perfect to describe time periods stretching back into the past.

There can be some overlap in the the present continuous can describe a time which is just beginning or one which is already in progress, but the present perfect with for does not go refer to future time, even if the action is unfinished and will continue into the future.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Peter, He is staying with us for 2 days. He will be staying with us for 2 says. He will stay with us for 2 days. 1)What's the difference between these? I'm reading a good book. I've been reading a good book. 2)What is the different? When I phoned, she was having a piano lesson.(I phoned during the lesson) When I phoned, she had been having a piano lesson.( I phoned after the lesson) 3)Is that correct? Her eyes are red.I think She's been crying. (You've explained me once) In this sentence, it doesnt matter whether the crying action is finished or not but what it implies all about is the crying action. Then, 4)why the use of Past perfect continuous implies that the piano lesson is finished? Thanks a million, I'd appreciate if you answered all my questions.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

We appreciate your keenness to learn but this isn't the kind of question we can answer in the comments section, I'm afraid.

The comments section is primarily for providing explanations relating to the tasks on the page or the explanations/information on the page. As we're teachers and we want to help learners we try to answer other questions too, including more general questions about the language. However, here you've asked four different grammar questions which each require quite detailed explanations. To answer this properly we'd need to write a comment longer than the material on the page, I suspect!

 

I don't want to suggest that you shouldn't ask questions but do please try to keep them short and directly relevant to the material on the page. We're a small team here offering a free service and we have to deal with a lot of comments from users every day. Much as we'd like to, it's just not possible for us to provide what would really be individual lessons in the comments sections like this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again guys, There is an issue with the exercise "Present Continues Negatives". When check your answers it shows wrong even though they are correct. Best wishes

Hello knownman,

I'm sorry for the confusion! I've just fixed the exercise.

Thanks very much for taking the time to tell us about this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi guys, You have been doing great job. I just wanted to say the exercise "present continues 3" is a little bit confusing, at least for me. I had difficulties to understand Steve's plan. I think it's difficult to understand. Best wishes

Hi knownman,

Thanks for the comment. It's always helpful to know if things are clear or not and we'll take a look at the formating to see if we can improve it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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.