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

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Soumis par Bo Bo Kyaw le mar 09/11/2021 - 15:10

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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

Soumis par minhoang le ven 15/10/2021 - 03:11

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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

Soumis par Mo le ven 01/10/2021 - 06:06

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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

Soumis par DaniWeebKage le mar 07/09/2021 - 07:24

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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?

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 08/09/2021 - 08:09

En réponse à par DaniWeebKage

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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

Soumis par knownman le mar 22/06/2021 - 18:09

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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

 

Soumis par knownman le mar 22/06/2021 - 17:45

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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

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 23/06/2021 - 07:45

En réponse à par knownman

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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

Soumis par Nevı le sam 03/04/2021 - 14:12

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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'.

Soumis par wasan0909 le dim 28/03/2021 - 18:45

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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

Soumis par OsamaJason le mer 24/03/2021 - 12:53

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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

Soumis par PaoSande le ven 05/02/2021 - 01:30

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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.

Hi PaoSande,

We don't have a page specifically for smell and other verbs of perception, but have a look at our Stative verbs page for a few more examples of verbs with different meanings for actions and states. I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Khanal saroj le lun 04/01/2021 - 15:48

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Please write correct form of verb: I'm sorry, I ......(not understand) . Can you speak more slowly? progressive or present simple? Why?

Hello Khanal saroj,

The best form here is the present simple: 'I don't understand'. Although from one perspective it's true that you're not understanding something at the time of speaking, we almost always use a present simple form here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par x100pre_noe le sam 05/12/2020 - 03:18

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Excuse me, how did I should write "did" in this phrase: What time "did or does" the film is starting?

Hello x100pre_noe,

It depends whether you are asking about the past or not.

To ask about a film which has not started yet you can use either of these:

What time does the film start?

What time is the film starting?

 

To ask about a film which has already started (or has already finished) you can say this:

What time did the film start?

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Maya.micheal le lun 26/10/2020 - 00:28

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Dear team, What (do you consider/are you considering) to be the lowest price they'll sell the house for? Do we use the present simple here or the present continuous? What is the difference,please? Thank you

Soumis par Peter M. le lun 26/10/2020 - 07:09

En réponse à par Maya.micheal

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Hello Maya.michael,

The correct form here is do you consider.

 

Consider has more than one use. It can be a dynamic verb with the meaning 'think about'. When it is used in this way, it can be used with the progressive aspect:

I'm considering selling the car. [=I'm thinking about it/trying to decide]

 

Consider can also be used as a stative verb meaning 'have an opinion'. When it is used in this way, it cannot be used with the progressive aspect:

I consider that to be a mistake. [=I think that is/was a mistake]

 

The verb think works in a similar way, with the same meanings (I'm thinking about vs I think).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mnar zain le jeu 04/03/2021 - 22:03

En réponse à par Maya.micheal

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Hello, I want to develop my English and grammar. Do you want us to communicate together to learn more from each other? I am a girl, but an occasion

Soumis par Rafaela1 le dim 18/10/2020 - 13:17

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I'm typing, I'm sleeping soon, and I'm falling asleep in an hour. ;) Are these sentences correct??

Hello Rafaela1,

The second two are a little odd.

If I understand what you mean, I'd suggest 'I'm going to sleep' or 'I'm going to bed' for the second form, and 'I'll be asleep in an hour' for the third one.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par DaniWeebKage le jeu 15/10/2020 - 12:22

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Could you plz tell me what these two sentences actually mean? At midnight, I am usually reading a book. At midnight, I usually read a book. Thanks a lot.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

The first sentence, with the continuous form (am reading), means that you are usually in the middle of reading at midnight. In other words, you start some time before midnight and are still reading when midnight comes.

The second sentence, with the simple form (read), means that you begin reading at midnight. In other words, midnight is your usual time for starting reading.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, Sir, Let's focus on the meaning of these sentences. Not the timeline. I am reading a book when the lights go out. I was reading a book when the lights went out. Do these sentences have the same meaning? And what if a question in my exam like I (read) a book when the lights (go) out. Can I use both? Thanks a lot, Sir Peter

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 18/10/2020 - 06:39

En réponse à par DaniWeebKage

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Hello again DaniWeebKage,

Both of your examples have a similar meaning:

I was reading a book when the lights went out

This describes an action (the lights going out) which interrupts another action in progress (reading a book) in the past.

I am reading a book when the lights go out.

This has the same meaning, but uses the present tense. Sometimes this is used in narrative fiction to create a sense of immediacy, or in anecdotes or jokes. It is a stylistic choice

 

Exam questions are designed to test your knowledge of standard forms, not forms used in very specific and limited contexts or genres. I would not suggest you use the present tense in an exam for that reason.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Fowler le lun 14/09/2020 - 09:36

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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

Soumis par Sophia Johnson le mar 08/09/2020 - 09:13

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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

Soumis par Sophia Johnson le ven 25/09/2020 - 06:48

En réponse à par Jonathan R

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Yes, thank you so much for the answer and it does make sense. I have gained more understanding now. Hope you have a nice day!

Soumis par LilyLinSZ le lun 07/09/2020 - 16:05

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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

Soumis par Aquibjamal le ven 04/09/2020 - 11:45

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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

Soumis par LubNko525 le ven 21/08/2020 - 18:59

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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

Soumis par Rafaela1 le dim 09/08/2020 - 14:01

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Hello admins, Sometimes I'm confused between future tense and present tense. For example, "For a while, I will work from home/ I work from home/ will be working from home". Which one is correct??

Hello Rafaela1,

There is no future tense in English. What you are using here is will, which is a modal verb like may or should. It often refers to the future, but can have other uses too.

 

In your example, will (a prediction or statement about the future) and will be working (an expectation) are possible. You could also use am working (a temporary state).

Work is not possible because it would describe a permananet or normal state, not something temporary.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team