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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Hello nadisha,

Can you please copy the part of the explanation that you're talking about? I'm a bit confused because it is possible to use different tenses in the same sentence, but it's difficult to generalise much, as there are so many different possible combinations. If there's a combination you want to ask about, please make up an example sentence and then we can help you with that.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tad90 on Tue, 11/10/2016 - 19:53

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Hello, Is it correct to put these sentences together "I’m working in London for the next two weeks . I start my job tomorrow " or is it incorrect if I say something like "I’m working in London for the next two weeks. I am starting my job tomorrow" Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 12/10/2016 - 05:59

In reply to by Tad90

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Hello Tad90,

Both of these are possible ways to describe this situation. The choice of which way to describe a future event or situation is often dependent on how the speaker sees that event (situation), and what he or she chooses to emphasise. In this case both the present simple (I start...) and the present continuous (I'm starting...) are possible, and so are other alternatives too (will, going to, will be +ing.

For analysis of these forms and when they tend to be used, see this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Losu Peter on Tue, 04/10/2016 - 11:20

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I don't know how to use this particular verb,did in everyday sentence.who can help me.moreover,l cannot Identify the type of tense I use in sentence

Hello Losu Peter,

'did' is the past simple form of the verb 'do'. I can do my homework now, but yesterday I did my homework.

I'd suggest you read through this Verbs section about the different tenses, as they are all explained here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SUKHDEVE on Sun, 02/10/2016 - 22:13

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hi, could you tell me if the part of my sentence is in present past or future after thus? i found this sentence after a small paragraph. thanks thus preventing relaxation.

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 03/10/2016 - 06:46

In reply to by SUKHDEVE

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Hello SUKHDEVE,

The verb here is a participle, and these do not carry a time reference. Instead, they take their time reference from the main verb in the sentence. If the rest of the sentence is in the past, then the participle has a past time meaning; if the rest of the sentence is in the present, then it has a present time meaning and so on.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lettoula on Sun, 02/10/2016 - 09:05

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Hello, Could you please give me more examples about the following: For something which is happening before and after a given time Thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 02/10/2016 - 15:09

In reply to by lettoula

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Hello lettoula,

The idea here is that there is an action which is in progress (which is why we use a continuous form) that is witnessed or is happening at a point in time. That is why the explanation talks about an action happening before and after a point in time, because that action was in progress before the point, is happening at that point and will continue to happen afterwards.

There are thousands of possible examples, but here are a couple more:

I'm still working when my children go to bed.
She's doing yoga when the rest of the family wake up.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingtam on Sat, 27/08/2016 - 08:27

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Helo, thanks alot for your great work. I'm a little bit confuse..........you said that the simple continous tense is to talk about something that is happening before and after a given time.........and you gave two examples "at 8 o'ckock we are usually having breakfast" "When i get home the children are doing there home work" ....................please explain these examples better for me as it will help me greatly to construct more examples

Hello kingtam,

All continuous forms describe actions in progress around a particular time. The present continuous describes actions in progress around the moment of speaking. For example:

At 8 o'ckock we are usually having breakfast.

The meaning here is that at 8.00 we are in the process of having breakfast. The meal started some time before 8.00 (though it could be 7.59!) and has not finished at 8.00.

When I get home the children are doing their [not 'there'] home work.

The meaning here is similar: the children started their homework before the speaker arrived and are in the middle of it when he or she gets home.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tapan100 on Thu, 25/08/2016 - 19:09

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Dear sir , Why are you cooking food today (I know this sentence is correct but can i say Why do you cook today or Why have you been cooking food today )

Hello Tapan100,

We would generally use 'do' to talk about typical or habitual actions, not actions at the moment of speaking. The present perfect 'have you been cooking' would ask about the day up to the moment of speaking, so it is possible but has a slightly different meaning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yeshe on Fri, 19/08/2016 - 01:24

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Hi, Could i say that" when i got home, children are playing game" or the given time should be present time. Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 19/08/2016 - 06:43

In reply to by yeshe

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Hi yeshe,

The verb in the first part of the sentence sets a past time ('got') and so the verb in the second part should also be past time:

When I got home, the children were playing a game.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lion921 on Sun, 14/08/2016 - 17:14

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Hi Would U be so kind to give an example of using the present continous tense when we talk about the past, please?

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 15/08/2016 - 07:31

In reply to by lion921

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Hi lion921,

This is used only in the specific case of telling someone a story and trying to make it more immediate. For example, imagine I am telling you about what happened last night and I want to make the story vivid and exciting. I might say:

So I'm walking down the street and suddenly a man jumps out and starts shouting at me.

The story events happened in the past but by using present forms I can make it seem more immediate. We only use this form in informal anecdotes, stories and jokes, however.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RTris on Tue, 12/07/2016 - 19:34

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Hi! i would like to ask the difference between present continuous and present perfect when use in time which is not finished. 1. The company's profit is increasing this year. 2. The company's profit has increased this year. 3. Rob isn't doing well this term. 4. Rob hasn't done well this term.

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 13/07/2016 - 07:22

In reply to by RTris

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Hi RTris,

Both forms can have different meanings depending on how they're used, but in basic, contextless sentences such as these, the difference is that the present continuous suggests the change is still in process, whereas the present perfect does not clearly indicate this. The present perfect doesn't deny that it will continue, but really only speaks about the period up until now.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tamer Refat on Sat, 02/07/2016 - 04:47

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How to use present continous When we want to talk about the past ( as we are telling a story until that story has finished ) thank you

Hello Tamer Refat,

I'm not sure what you mean exactly. Could you provide a sentence or two illustrating what you have in mind, and then we'll comment on those?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by azaidi5 on Sun, 12/06/2016 - 13:03

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Dear LearnEnglish team, I have two confusions. 1) We use Present Simple and Present Continuous both to talk about something fixed or planned for future. Then what is the difference, if any, in their usage in this regard. For example: a) We fly to Paris next week. OR We are flying for Paris next week. b) The train leaves at 8a.m. tomorrow. c) I am playing badminton with Matthew tomorrow. Is it right if I use Present Continuous for (b) and Present Simple for (c)? 2) We usually use Present Simple for feelings and thoughts. So, are the following sentences wrong? a) I am believing you. ( this time only) I believe you. (always) b) I am trusting you. c) I am getting you. d) I am understanding you. Quick reply will be highly appreciated. Regards.

Hello azaidi5,

While we're happy to answer specific questions as far as time allows - and please remember that we are a small team here at LearnEnglish - we cannot answer questions which contain multiple sentences for comment. This is a job for your teacher, I am afraid.

The present simple is used to describe fixed, regular or timetabled events such as the start time of a concert or the departure time of a train. The present continuous is used to describe an event which has been arranged between two or more actors. In other words, the choice of the most appropriate form depends upon the nature of the event and how it is perceived by the speaker.

All of the sentences you quote in the second question would generally be formed with simple verbs, not continuous. Only in particular contexts where a change or temporary state is emphasised might a continuous form be used, but this would be very unusual.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yura_Tea on Sun, 22/05/2016 - 09:08

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Hello, I don't understand the use of present continous in this case: 'I look aweful in the mornings, but I'm all nice and pretty when I AM GOING OUT. I would think about going out as about daily routine and I would use present simple (... 'when I GO OUT). Would this be my mistake?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/05/2016 - 17:41

In reply to by Yura_Tea

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Hello Yura_Tea,

In this example it would be fine to use 'when I go out' (describing a regular activity) or 'when I'm going out' (describing an action in progress. It's similar to examples such as:

I'm grumpy in the morning, but I'm in a good mood when I eat something nice.

I'm grumpy in the morning, but I'm in a good mood when I'm eating something nice.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you a lot for your answer. I'm glad to know that both tenses are correct and I won't make any mistakes in this case. I suppose I need more practice to feel the difference between the two, and the feeling will come with time, naturally. :)

Submitted by Ramyar1234 on Sat, 14/05/2016 - 19:18

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Hello Sir, I will be very glad to answer my questions please. We use both tenses present simple and present continuous to write about something, which happens again and again. What are the differences between the below examples? Suppose we can use both tense for something, which happens again and again in the present then how can i recognize what kind of tenses are used in these examples? Examples: Present continuous It’s always raining in London. They are always arguing. George is great. He’s always laughing. Present simple I play football every weekend. I sometimes go to the cinema. She never plays football.

Hello Ramyar1234,

Generally, we reserve the present continuous with an adverb of frequency ('always', 'forever' or 'constantly') for irritating activities, while the present simple is more neutral. For example:

He sings in the shower. [a normal and frequent activity]

He's always singing in the shower. [a normal and frequent activity which the speaker finds irritating]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tom on Wed, 11/05/2016 - 18:40

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These sentences are confused. It is always raining in London ( Present Continuous) Happens in the past, up to now and continue... It always rains in London ( Present simple) Just in general true. But when we use in speaking, which way you all preferred?

Hello Tom,

The first sentence (and most sentences that use 'always' + present continuous) is making a comment – for example, maybe the speaker isn't happy about all the rain – whereas the sentence with the present simple is more matter-of-fact.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Moon71539 on Fri, 06/05/2016 - 05:24

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Dear The LearnEnglish Team, I'm a bit confused which tense should be used in this sentence. Please help! He usually goes to sleep if the radio___________. plays or is playing would be better? Can you give me an explanation as well? Thanks in advance. Best, Moon

Hello Moon,

'is playing' is better because it's talking about something happening before, during and after the time he falls asleep. Our continuous aspect page might be a good one for you to read to complement the explanation on this page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cumatan on Mon, 28/03/2016 - 20:59

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Hi, Can you give me some examples about the present continuous to talk about the past? Thanks...

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 29/03/2016 - 07:07

In reply to by cumatan

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Hello cumatan,

The fourth sentence in the task shows an example of this. There is a good example from Dickens in the wikipedia article on the Historical present. But this is not used just in literature; people often use the present to talk about a past event in conversations, particularly when they're telling a story. Using the present in this way makes the story seem more alive.

For example, let's say I had an argument with a shop assistant yesterday and I'm still a bit angry about it when I tell the story to a friend. I might say something like: 'And then she tells me that I can't bring my backpack into the shop! I tell her I'm not going to leave my backpack unattended at the shop entrance, because my laptop is inside it. She says I have to so I tell her I'll just take my business elsewhere.' I could use the past simple to narrate this story, but by using the present it seems more real.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JaneMe on Thu, 24/03/2016 - 08:16

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Hello , I am having confusion in making sentences for situations where something is happening in the present as a result of something that happened in the past. For example, Jan is doing this (now) because he was asked to do so (at some time earlier). I am going to the party because I got myself registered there. Are these sentences grammatically correct OR…. Please?

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 25/03/2016 - 07:00

In reply to by JaneMe

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Hello JaneMe,

The verb forms in these sentences are correct, so good work there! There are two small improvements I'd suggest in other areas. First, in the first sentence, use 'it' instead of 'so'. This word is referring to 'this' in the first part of the sentence, and so 'it' makes more sense than 'so'. Second, in the second sentence, we'd probably just say 'I registered there' – the form you use could be possible in some contexts, but the active form is more common in general.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chandini on Mon, 21/03/2016 - 05:33

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Thank you once again.

Submitted by chandini on Mon, 14/03/2016 - 12:04

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Hello, Which one is correct? "I'm going home". (or) "I'm going to home". If "I'm going home" is right, why are we using "I'm going to college". Is this the proper English? If so, why? what is the reason behind this? Thank You in advance.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 15/03/2016 - 07:44

In reply to by chandini

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Hello chandini,

'I'm going home' is correct. This is because we use 'home' here as an adverb, not a noun. It's similar to 'I'm going outside' or 'I'm going upstairs'. It is possible to use 'home' as a noun, but we use a possessive adjective ('to my home') when we do so.

We say 'I'm going to college' because 'college' is a noun, not an adverb.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Elka0507 on Wed, 09/03/2016 - 19:33

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Dear LearnEnglish Team, First of all I'd like to thank you for everyday big help to us, students and non-native English teachers. While preparing for the next lesson, I came across the following popular science abstract from the textbook: "Wind is air moving over land or sea. Air is always moving. It is the sun that makes air move". The second sentence confused me. I've always thought Present Simple is used for such general truths. But on this webpage I've also read "for something which is happening before and after a given time: At eight o’clock we are usually having breakfast. When I get home the children are doing their homework." Now I'm in doubt. Could you explain me what the use of Present Continuous in my abstract means, please? Thanks in advance

Hello Elka0507,

We use the present continuous in a number of ways. One way is to show something which is in progress at a certain time and is repeated or temporary. In this example I would say that if we said 'wind always moves' it might suggest a constant flow. If we say 'wind is always moving' it suggests a constantly changing activity - different directions, speeds and so on.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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.

Submitted by Elena Albena on Sat, 05/03/2016 - 10:12

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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

Submitted by Elena Albena on Tue, 08/03/2016 - 08:47

In reply to by Peter M.

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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