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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Submitted by AsahiYo20 on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 11:53

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Hi teacher, 1. We now have a broader set of users who are utilising our product in various unexpected ways. - I would like to ask why the present continuous tense is used here. Would the simple present tense be equally acceptable? 2. The company has announced that it is cutting prices. - Why is the present continuous tense used here? I am confused about the use because I think the action of cutting prices is short. Could I say "it will cut prices" or "it has cut prices" instead?

Hello AsahiYo20,

1. The simple present is also correct here. I'm not familiar with the writer's reasons for using the present continuous, but I suppose it's to speak about something developing and changing.

2. Both of the alternatives you suggest are possible, though they all describe the action in different ways. I suppose the idea behind the present continuous is that it's something new (which you can also find on the page I previously linked to).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Alibel on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 21:34

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Hello, The LearnEnglish Team, I´m confused about something, can you help me? We use Presente simple with adverbs of frequency like always, never, etc. At the same time we use presente continuous when something happens again and again, normally with the adverb always. So what is the difference between those two? The same goes for the advanced level, telling a story or summerising a book. What is the difference in use of this two tences? Thank you! Kind regars

Hello Alibel,

Generally, when we use the present continuous with an adverb of frequency such as always, forever or continually, it suggests that we find the habit irritating. For example:

He always parks the car behind the house. [a habit or typical behaviour]

He's always parking the car behind the house. [this habit irritates me]

 

However, we can also use the present continuous with an adverb of frequency when we want to emphasise or make clear that the action is in progress:

He always has a shower when I get up. [his shower starts when or after I get up]

He's always having a shower when I get up. [his shower is in progress when I get up]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by message100 on Thu, 16/07/2020 - 13:56

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Hello, The LearnEnglish Team, If something happens regularly at a certain time (I leave the office at 6 p.m., We have breakfast at 7.30), Is it the only way to think and speak about it as ‘something is happening regularly at a certain time’, (I am leaving the office at 6 p.m. every workday., We are having breakfast at 7.30 every day)? Is present simple for regular actions totally impossible and unthinkable here? Thank you in advance!

Hello message100,

When something is a regular action then the present simple is appropriate. The continuous would suggest something that is not part of a regular pattern. For example:

I have my first meeting at 9.00 every morning, but this week I'm seeing my boss at 8.30 because she's got a lot of other meetings later on.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cherly chia mei ying on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 04:27

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Also, in the "future plans or arrangements": Mary is going to a new school next term. since it is future plans, why aren't the sentence is "Mary will be going to a new school next term."(future continuous tense) or What are you doing next week? what will you be doing next week? (future continuous tense)

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 10:07

In reply to by cherly chia mei ying

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Hello cherly chia mei ying

The two sentences in the future continuous that you propose could also be correct. It depends on how the speaker sees the future event. We often use the future continuous when we are imagining a particular point in time or a situation in the future, but we can also refer to that same time with a form like 'be going to'. 

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cherly chia mei ying on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 04:19

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Hi sir! I have two confusion here. Would like to seek for you opinions ^^ 1. The other day I'm just walking down the street when suddenly this man (came)comes up to me and (asked)asks me to lend him some money. Well, he's carrying a big stick and he looks a bit dangerous, so I'm(have been)wondering what to do … since it was saying about something in the past, why is the word i bracket is not past tense or the last one as present perfect continuous? 2. They are eating at Scott’s favorite restaurant today, Polly’s Pancake Diner. (some sentences i found online) - Why aren't "they are eating at.." is : "they have been eating at..." (as it sound like something already happened on today before this words spoken)

Hello cherly chia mei ying

Regarding your first question, as it says at the end of the explanation above, you can use present tenses to speak about the past, particularly when telling a story. This can have the effect of making the story more present.

Regarding your second question, you could also say that. The present continuous form would be better in, for example, a news report in which the reporter is on the scene at the time the report is made.

As you can see, verb tenses can be used in a variety of ways!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shilpa Dutta on Mon, 11/05/2020 - 11:44

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Good afternoon Sir, I want to ask He and she is plucking flowers or are pluking flowers which one is correct ? Next People is smoking or are smoking nowadays and another one Children are running fast or is running fast . kindly answer me I will be grateful . please sir

Hello Shilpa Dutta,

The correct spelling is plucking, but I think for flowers a better verb is picking.

Both people and children are plural nouns so you need to say are smoking and are running.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Pats on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 16:17

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Hi everyone. I would like to know the difference bettewen - Is she living in London? - Does she lives in London? And the stative verbs in present continuous Saying: "She is understanding everything" is correct? or we can just say "she is understand everything"

Hello Pats,

The correct sentences would be as follows:

Is she living in London?

Does she live in London? [not lives]

 

The difference is how the speaker sees the situation. The first sentence (present continuous) sees living as a temporary thing which will change. You might ask this if a person is studying in a city but will at some point leave, or is working on a short-term contract. The second sentence (present simple) sees living as a permanant thing. You might ask this if you think London is the person's home.

 

Stative verbs are usually not used with continuous forms. The correct form here is understands.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by atya on Wed, 15/04/2020 - 11:43

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Hello "She is over-sensitive, often getting offended for seemingly no reason." I read this sentence in a book and now I wanna understand "geting" is present continuous here or not? if yes or no, please tell me the reason. thanks a lot for your response

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 16/04/2020 - 07:03

In reply to by atya

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Hello atya,

Getting here is a present participle. We can use these to join sentences which have the same subject:

She is over-sensitive.

She often gets offended for seemingly no reason.

> She is over-sensitive, often getting offended for seemingly no reason.

 

You can read more about this use of participles on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/participle-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Wed, 11/03/2020 - 09:33

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The other day I'm just walking up the tropical forest when slowly this sloth comes up to me and asks me to give some fruits. Well, he's having big claws and he looks a bit like a mascot, so I'm wondering what to do …

Submitted by Ridg Wick on Mon, 09/03/2020 - 08:14

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" Hot water makes me to feel tired " is it correct or wrong ? Let me know, you explain all the grammer about this sentence,please.

Hello Ridg Wick

I'm afraid that is not correct. When we use 'make' in this way, it is followed by an infinitive without 'to': 'Hot water makes me feel tired'.

You can read more about how to use 'make' this way on our Verbs followed by the infinitive page (see the section called make and let).

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Risa warysha on Mon, 20/01/2020 - 08:02

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Hi Sir, Would you please help me. I'm confused with stative verbs. Are we not allowed to use stative verbs with 'ing' form, like in an example 'we are loving this moment'? Or can we still use it for spoken words? Thank you,Sir

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 20/01/2020 - 14:26

In reply to by Risa warysha

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Hello Risa warysha

Most of the time, we don't use stative verbs in a continuous form, but it is possible to do this. It usually depends on the specific context and meaning. For example, when we use a continuous form to talk about a temporary situation, it's OK to do this with a stative verb: 'I'm being stubborn because I really don't want to go'.

There's a fuller explanation in the State and action verbs section of this page ('state verb' is another way of saying 'stative verb'). Please have a look and then if you have any questions about a specific sentence or two, please feel free to ask us.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by vinod sahu on Sun, 11/08/2019 - 14:27

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Hi, i from india. this post is really helpful...thank you so much

Submitted by Ivn on Mon, 29/07/2019 - 16:44

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Hi Sir I understand the form of continuous tenses is be-verb and V-ing. But I'm wondering that why is it form like this? Why do we use "Ving" to describe a progressive action? Is there any explanation? Or is it just been formulated like this and no reason? Regards Ivan

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 29/07/2019 - 16:51

In reply to by Ivn

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Hello Ivan

Natural languages develop from the way people use them over time and I'm sure that is also the case with the continuous forms in English. You could read a little more about this in the Wikipedia or consult an expert in historical linguistics to find out more.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Montri on Sun, 26/05/2019 - 06:56

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What is the diferrent the following sentenes? My son is going to ten next month. My son will be ten next month. Thx!
Hello Montri, The first sentence has a small error: it should be '...is going to be ten...' (you omitted the 'be'). ~ Generally, we use 'going to' to describe things we have reason to expect to be true, and we use 'will' to describe things that we believe will happen. In this case, both forms work perfectly well and there is no real difference between them. ~ You can read more about these forms on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/talking-about-future ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Tue, 30/04/2019 - 11:04

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Hi, I have to be in the same room as my router to get a faster speed. I am having to be in the same room as my router to get faster speed. are there any cases where the above sentences can be used interchangeably?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 01/05/2019 - 07:26

In reply to by sam61

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Hello sam61, The continuous form ('am having to') is quite rare. We use it when it is important to emphasise that a certain obligation or requirement is temporary. For example: I have to travel 10 km to get to work. [this is necessary] I'm having to travel 10 km to get to work. [this is necessary at the moment but is not a normal state of affairs] ~ The simple form ('have to') can be used instead of the continuous form, though unless it has a time expression such as 'at the moment' it will not carry quite the same meaning. Of course, the context may make the temporary or permanent nature of the obligation clear. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Marua on Thu, 21/03/2019 - 20:35

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Hi. I was wondering whether I could use present simple or continuous interchangeably in the next dialogue: "Which band is playing at the club tonight?" 'The X.' "What time does the concert start/is the concert starting?" In my opinion, they are both correct because they are part of an arrangement, but I need a second opinion. Thx.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 22/03/2019 - 07:11

In reply to by Marua

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Hello Marua, Yes, both 'What time does the concert start?' and 'What time is the concert starting?' are possible here. The concert can be seen as a scheduled event or as a particular arrangement. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Fri, 18/01/2019 - 10:46

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Hi Sir Please let me know which is correct ? 'A' is meeting 'B' after a long time after greeting or saying how are you ? Which is correct way of asking? What do you do?/ What are you doing? Regards Lal

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 20/01/2019 - 07:35

In reply to by Lal

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Hi Lal,

'What do you do?' is a question about a person's occupation which we generally use when meeting them for the first time.

 

If we are meeting someone we know or once knew then we would say one of these:

Are you still working as a journalist?

Are you still a journalist?

 

If we could not remember what they used to do then we could say:

What are you up to now?

What are you doing at the moment?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maimaitiyiming on Sun, 13/01/2019 - 03:26

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To describe an action or event in the future, which has already been planned or prepared, can we use both case, i.e. Simple present tense and present continuous tense. For example, I will meet my boyfriend tonight. I am meeting my boyfriend tonight. I thought they are the same meaning in English, but in different tense. Can you tell me do we make sentences in English at same meaning but different tense? thanks a lot.

Hello Maimaitiyiming,

English has many ways to talk about the future and all of the following are possible:

 

  • I meet my boyfriend tonight.
  • I'm meeting my boyfriend tonight.
  • I will (might/may/should etc) meet my boyfriend tonight.
  • I'm going to meet my boyfriend tonight.
  • I'll be meeting my boyfriend tonight.

 

Which you use depends upon the context and the speaker's intention. We have several pages which explain the various forms and when they can be used:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/talking-about-future

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/future-plans

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Mr. Peter! First thanks for your in time reply. Second, can I conclude one rule that is to same situation we can make sentence in different tense depend on your examples and explanation ?

Hello Maimaitiyiming,

I'm afraid I don't understand what rule you are suggesting here. If you want to post another example we'll be happy to comment on it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Devesh Raj on Fri, 28/12/2018 - 16:52

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Why some sentences having 'has' are present continuous tense like - "She has a large house to live in.."

Hello Devesh Raj,

In that sentence, 'has' is in the present simple tense, not the present continuous. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vivian888999 on Tue, 11/09/2018 - 12:22

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What is different between those two sentences? I am always losing the phone. I always lose the phone. Thank you

Hello Vivian888999,

Both sentences describe things that happen frequently. The present continuous form (the first example) is generally used in such cases when we want to emphasise that the situation is irritating and that we wish it would stop.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Mon, 03/09/2018 - 13:04

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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. Regards Lal

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Mon, 03/09/2018 - 12:23

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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. Regards Lal.

Hi Lal,

Yes, 1 is the correct one.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Thu, 26/07/2018 - 10:49

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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. Regards Lal

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Thu, 26/07/2018 - 05:26

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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 time? Regarding time can one use the above tenses or should one use present perfect or past perfect? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal

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.


Peter

The LearnEnglish Team