Present tense

Level: intermediate

There are two tenses in English: past and present.

The present tense is used to talk about the present and to talk about the future.

There are four present tense forms:

Present simple I work
Present continuous I am working
Present perfect I have worked
Present perfect continuous I have been working

We can use all these forms:

  • to talk about the present:

London is the capital of Britain.
He works at McDonald’s.
He is working at McDonald's.
He has worked there for three months now.
He has been working there for three months now.

  • to talk about the future:

The next train leaves this evening at 17.00.
I'll phone you when I get home.
He is meeting Peter in town this afternoon.
I'll come home as soon as I have finished work.
You will be tired out after you have been working all night.

Present tense 1
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Present tense 2
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Level: advanced

We can use present forms to talk about the past:

  • when we are telling a story:

Well, it's a lovely day and I'm just walking down the street when I see this funny guy walking towards me. Obviously he's been drinking, because he's moving from side to side …

  • when we are summarising something we have read, heard or seen:

I love Ian Rankin's novels. He writes about this detective called Rebus. Rebus lives in Edinburgh and he's a brilliant detective, but he's always getting into trouble. In one book, he gets suspended and they tell him to stop working on this case. But he takes no notice …

Present tense 3
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Present tense 4
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Oh! The "to" was dropped in the sentence. Is this under textual ellipsis? I didn't realise it can be applied for "to" as normally we drop words like "that" or don't repeat words after and, but and or (coordinating clauses). Thank you, Peter, for pointing that out. :)

Submitted by Hzazai on Sat, 09/12/2017 - 06:25

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Hello Kirk, There are two tenses in English language. Is this true? Where is the other one(Future Tense).

Hello Hzazai,

It depends how you define the term 'tense'. When we speak of only two tenses in English, 'tense' means a single word -- see the Wikipedia entry on Grammatical tense for more. When we use 'tense' in a way that includes other combinations (e.g. the present perfect, which consists of the auxiliary 'have' plus a past participle, i.e. 2 words), then there are many more than just two. 

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yasser Azizi on Mon, 27/11/2017 - 20:23

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"McEwan handles the characters with his customary skill." How would I know that sentence above talks about past and not present? It seems to mee to be present!! Notice that there is no enough context!!

Hello Yasser Azizi,

Usually the context will make it clear. In this case, the writer assumes you're familiar with the novelist Ian McEwan, but you're right, there's no context for this. Though in this sentence, the ideas of someone 'handling characters' (which suggests we're talking about fiction) and 'customary skill' (which suggests an established writer or director is being talked about) suggest that this comes from a critic's review of a novel or film.

This is a fairly specialised use of the present simple that you probably won't see used that often unless you read a lot of film or book reviews. Sorry for the confusion!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yasminesaleh on Thu, 23/11/2017 - 18:51

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Dear sir please, can you tell me why did we say in the test ( you look sad, anything the matter?) why did we say anything the matter and what's the matter or anything that matters? thank you for helping us Regards

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 08:43

In reply to by yasminesaleh

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Hello yasminesaleh,

'Anything the matter?' is an informal way of saying 'Is anything the matter?' You could also say 'What's the matter?', which is the most basic question, but if you say this it implies the other person doesn't look well. If you think the other person might not like that you think they don't look well, you can ask 'Is anything the matter?' instead.

'anything the matter' is a fixed expression when used in this way, so you can't say 'anything that matters' in this context.

I hope this helps clarify it for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Wed, 08/11/2017 - 03:41

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Hello sir, I have read this : There are also limits imposed on the number of transactions (financial or non-financial) that a customer is entitled to. If the customer breaches the limit, bank is liable to charge him. My question : What is this ' Bank is liable to charge him.' What is this liability on the part of bank here. Should it be : Bank is entitled to charge ... or customer is liable for a penalty. Since bank would be beneficiary here by charging the customer, can we say then that it is liable for ... and since it is customer who would be at the risk of paying the penalty ,should we not say customers are liable for . And are the comas before 'can' and 'should' in the ' since' sentence above are right , or should there be no comas. please guide.

Hello dipak,

Please look up 'liable' in the dictionary -- the second meaning ('likely') is the one used here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nourhan 22 on Sun, 29/10/2017 - 23:38

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Hello, I have a question concerning a sentence in the quiz above. " McEwan handles the character with his customary skill. " I do not think that this sentence indicates the past, I believe that it indicates the present. could you explain why does it refer to the past time?

Hello Nourhan 22,

We often use present tenses when reviewing films, books and plays, both to comment on them and to talk about the plot. This is an example of that.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Sun, 29/10/2017 - 06:12

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I have read this : I love New York ! With its bright lights, bustling traffic , gleaming skyscrapers and crazy nightlife , this city make you feel alive. ' This city make you... ' : should it not be - This city makes you ...

Hello dipak,

Yes, you are right.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by irina diaconescu on Wed, 18/10/2017 - 20:08

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Good evening Learn English Team, I don`t now in what context to use each of the four times. I need a more detailed explanation. What is the difference between the present simple and the present continous? Thank you so much! Best wishes,

Hello irina diaconescu,

I'm not sure what you mean by 'four times'. English has two tenses (past and present). We use various non-tense devices to refer to the future and we have aspects such as perfective and continuous to describe other elements of meaning such as permanent, temporary, repeated, single action and so on.

There are many uses of the present simple and continuous. Most generally, the present simple is used to describe actions or states which are generally true, while the present continuous describes temporary and ongoing actions or states.

You can read more about this, and see many examples, on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naghmairam on Thu, 12/10/2017 - 07:05

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Hi, Could you please explain the grammar of the following sentence? He decides to fund her education on the condition that she writes to him regularly about her progress. Is the use of present simple in the second part of the sentence correct? Is the second part (on the condition....) is a conditional sentence? What is the rule about such sentence? If the first part of such sentences is in past tense, should we use past tense in the second half also? Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 12/10/2017 - 07:48

In reply to by naghmairam

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Hi naghmairam,

The phrase on condition that is a conditonal form which puts a limit on a situation or action. In meaning it is similar to if or unless... not.  The present form following the phrase has a future meaning here but other forms (present perfect for conditions required before the situation or action takes place, past forms if the whole sentence is put in past time etc).

You can read more about this phrase and others like it on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faizan Sahgal on Fri, 06/10/2017 - 19:28

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dear sir, how it is past? Brando plays an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 06/10/2017 - 19:42

In reply to by Faizan Sahgal

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Hello Faizan Sahgal,

This is explained above in the section about using the present simple to summarise a film or book we have seen or read.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by orlanda on Tue, 26/09/2017 - 16:14

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I woud like to know if the following sentence is in the correct tense: This is a book about a man who deserts his family and goes to America. Instead of deserts and goes , shouldn't we use instead the present continuous.

Hello orlanda,

It depends a bit on the context, but as a summary of the story, it is normal and correct to use the present simple. This was part of the explanation on this page, but it seems to have disappeared from the page! I'll have to look into this before I can fix it, but in the meantime if you read the Stories and commentaries section of this Cambridge Dictionary page, it should clarify this use of the present simple for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 26/09/2017 - 04:24

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Hello Sir I have just sent you a question under 'present perfect tense' in that I have asked about the word 'NOW' you have used it in your website above in both simple and continuous so it is very clear to me now. I am sorry about it but please clarify my first quetion. Thank you. Andrew internationnal

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 26/09/2017 - 04:02

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Hello Sir Please clarify this: We have walked about thirty kilo meters today, so we feel tired.(the couple look very tired of course and the picture show that they are unable to walk further) in this situation can't I say : We have been walking thirty kilo meters today, so we feel tired./ so we feel tired now. Please let me know whether I am right or wrong. Also I would like to know the word 'NOW' is correct to use in both present perfect simple and continuous. Thank you. Regards Andreew international is alright to use

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 26/09/2017 - 06:14

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

The difference between the present perfect simple and continuous is, like any question of aspect, one of how we see the action expressed by the verb. The simple form focuses on the action as a whole and its result; the continuous form focuses on the activity as a process. Sometimes there is a clear difference in meaning, as in:

We've read that. [= we finished it]

We've been reading that. [= we (probably) haven't finished it]

 

In other cases the difference is one of perspective or focus:

She's worked there for a while. [= she still works there; my focus is on the fact or the achievement]

She's been working there for a while. [= she still works there; my focus is on the ongoing activity of working]

 

Generally, when we have a quantity or amount we are focusing on the total and the simple form is more common. Thus, in your example the simple form is more natural because you have the phrase 'thirty kilometres', showing a (completed) achievement. The continuous form, focusing on the activity rather than the act, would be more likely without this phrase.

You can read more about the present perfect simple and continous on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mbkhayata on Mon, 25/09/2017 - 21:25

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I have got a Question as follows: 1.Have and has are auxiliaries for present perfect simple. What are the auxiliaries for present perfect continuous? A. If the answer is have/has too, then we have the same auxiliaries for two tenses. And this contradicts with the role of auxiliaries which is tense determination. B. If the answer is that both have/has and been are the auxiliaries for present perfect continuous, then we have two auxiliaries for one tense(have and been). Can that be true? I hope to get your valuable answers.

Hello mbkhayata,

Auxiliary verbs do not determine the tense, strictly speaking. They are a part of the verb form which adds aspect (perfect or continuous) and voice (passive) to whatever tense the verb has (past or present).

In present perfect simple forms the auxiliary is have or has (followed by a past participle) In present perfect continuous forms the auxiliaries are have been or has been (followed by a present participle).

There is no reason why one auxiliary verb cannot be used with different verb forms. For example, the auxiliary verb be is used in passive forms as well as continuous forms.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Thu, 21/09/2017 - 06:41

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I have read that we do not use preposition ' to ' before ' Home ' because ' Home ' works as an adverb because it gives direction. Now , there is only one railway station and also only one bus stop in my town . If I say that I am going to railway station or bus stop then anybody will understand which way I am going. So, can I say that since the word ' Railway station ' and the word ' Bus stop ' gives direction I can use it without preposition like : 1) I am going railway station. 2) I am going bus stop. What do you say , sir ?

Hello dipakrgandhi,

You need to use 'to' here because 'railway station' and 'bus stop' are both nouns. The fact that there is only one of each in your town means that you would use the definite article ('the'), not that the words suddenly become adverbs. Thus you would say 'I'm going to the railway station'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

But then why this case is not with " Home " ? Why do we not use " to " before home treating it as an adverb ? Why don't we treat it as a noun? Thanking you .

Hello dipak,

This is because this use of 'home' is an exception. I'd suggest viewing it as a kind of idiom or expression.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Sat, 16/09/2017 - 16:59

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Hello Sir Please tell me this sentence is correct or not. This is about the subject and the verb agreement. The graphs below shows the marks obtained by students of languages on degree courses at a British university. or Is it alright to write: The graph below shows or The graphs below show ... I think this is the correct way to write.(subject - verb agreement) Please let me know. Thank you. Regards

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 16/09/2017 - 19:41

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew,

You are right. Both 'the graphs below show' and 'the graph below shows' are correct, but 'the graphs below shows' is not.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nishan on Sat, 26/08/2017 - 03:10

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hello sir I do work I work same or not sir?

Hello nishan,

This depends somewhat on the context. If you're talking about your job then you would use the verb 'work':

I work as a teacher.

I work six days a week.

I work very hard.

 

We use the verb 'do' with an object when we are talking about specific tasks or responsibilities:

I do the gardening every Saturday.

I do the paperwork in the office.

He did a good job with that project.

She did the illustrations for the new campaign.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Wed, 23/08/2017 - 13:59

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Hello Sir Could I use 'for' instead of 'to' in the following sentence? We fly to Paris next week. We fly for Paris next week. Is this correct to say ? They flew for Paris. I was told we use 'for' for location. and 'to' for direction eg. Is this the train for Colombo? I am going to Colombo. Please let me know if I am wrong Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 23/08/2017 - 20:03

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

As you can see in the dictionary, 'for' has 17 different uses and one of them has the meaning of 'towards'. 'to' and 'towards' don't mean exactly the same thing in all contexts and it would take some time to explain their uses thoroughly. 

You can say 'We fly for Paris', but it would sound a bit strange to most people, who would use 'to' instead. I'd recommend you use 'to'. 'The train for X' is, however, a more common collocation so I'd not discourage you from using it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sravi4701 on Thu, 03/08/2017 - 15:08

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I am still confused how a present tense can talk about past and future. feeling confused. Anyone can help me. Thanks,

Hello sravi4701,

The present tense is sometimes used to talk about the past when we are telling jokes or anecdotes and wish to make the story seem more immediate and lively. For example, you could tell a story using past forms:

I was sitting in the park last night when an old man came up to me and said...

You could also tell the story using present forms, making it less formal and more of a performance:

So there I am, sitting in the park last night, and suddenly an old man comes up to me and he says...

It's a common feature of comedians' performances, for example. A similar use of the present can be heard when a broadcaster on the radio or TV is describing a sports event. Although they are describing actions from a few seconds ago, they use present forms:

Jones passes the ball to Smith, who runs at the defender. Smith shoots! It's a goal!

 

To see how present forms can be used to talk about the future please take a look at this page, which has many examples.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by WhiteCollar on Tue, 25/07/2017 - 12:52

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Hello! I need some help: what is different between 'where did you come from?' and 'where do you come from?' With best wishes, WhiteCollar

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 26/07/2017 - 02:25

In reply to by WhiteCollar

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Hello WhiteCollar,

The question with 'did' refers to the past and the question with 'does' refers to the present. Is that what you mean?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Prakash on Sun, 16/07/2017 - 11:39

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hello sir we use two helping verbs with simple present- do and does but with the verb BE (am,is,are) we do not use them. i am i am not am i am i not what am i what am i not . . we use HAVE in simple present tense we can use DO/DOES with the verb HAVE . . I have i do not have do i have what do i have and without helping verb also we can make negative . i have i have not have i what have i MY QUESTIONS ARE.... 1) are there other verbs, we can use without DO/DOES(helping verbs) in simple present 2) why do we not use DO AND DOES with the verb BE in simple present(i do not am) 3) is HAVE only one verb that can be used with or without helping verb

Hello INS-PRAKASH,

We're happy to try to help you, but we don't generally respond to such questions, as our concerns here are helping our users learn, not so much come up with rules about the language. Such general rules often have exceptions or just aren't all that useful for learning.

1. all modal verbs are auxiliary verbs and, like 'be', are not used with auxiliary 'do'. 'have got' is another one that doesn't use auxiliary 'do'.

2. This is related to the history of the English language, i.e. how it's developed over time. I'm afraid answering this is well beyond what we do here. 

3. As far as I can think right now, yes, in addition to 'be' and the modal auxiliary verbs. I don't think I'm forgetting any others, but I'm afraid I don't normally think of grammar in terms of these kinds of lists, so perhaps I've missed something.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Adham farea on Sat, 01/07/2017 - 02:52

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so I say to him, 'What's your game, son?' past?? why it's not= so i said to him, 'What's your game, son?'

Hello Adham farea,

This use of present forms is described on the page:

 

to talk about the past when we are telling a story in spoken English or when we are summarising a book, film, play etc.

 

When we tell an informal story such as an anecdote or joke present forms are quite common. They make the story more immedaite and can bring it to life, making it more engaging for the listener.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by feli3105 on Tue, 13/06/2017 - 00:03

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Why 'is' and not 'has'? 'Most modern birds require parental care – the brush turkey of Australia (which is no relation to American turkeys) is one of the few exceptions.' Thanks in advance.

Hello feli3105,

That sounds odd to me, too, so I'm afraid I can't explain that. 'have' or 'bear' are the verbs that are typically used in such a phrase.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Elsa99 on Wed, 31/05/2017 - 22:49

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Hi :) whats the different between I’ll come home as soon as I have finished work. AND You will be tired out after you have been working all night.

Hello Elsa99,

'I have finished work' is the present perfect simple and 'you have been working' is the present perfect continuous. The difference between these two forms is explained on our present perfect and present perfect simple and continuous pages.

If you have any other questions about these sentences, we're happy to help you, but please explain to us what you understand and don't understand so that we can help you better.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nadarali1996 on Fri, 26/05/2017 - 03:24

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Hello Sir! How are you ? I'm a little bit confused regarding these sentences, and I can hope you will reduce my stress.The sentences are: "I have always answered his letters". and "I always answer his letters."