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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Submitted by bharathviki on Thu, 25/12/2014 - 16:16

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Hi i have a doubt 1) Writing and editing is art 2)Writing and editing are art which one is correct from the above sentences? I prefer second one but in a website i saw the first one was there

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 26/12/2014 - 09:59

In reply to by bharathviki

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Hello bharathviki,

I would suggest the following:

Writing and editing is art - this describes the nature of the activities; it has a similar meaning to a person looking at a painting and saying 'This is art'.

Writing and editing are an art / arts - this describes the speaker's view of the activity, suggesting that it is an intuitive or creative process, rather that '... are a science / sciences', which would suggest a more logical and rule-based process.

The choice of singular or plural depends on whether you see 'writing and editing' as one acitvity or two. You could see them as one process (how to create a book) or as two (first you write, then you edit).

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Thu, 18/12/2014 - 06:11

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Dear Sir, Which of the following sentences is correct? We have been living in Alberta since my father was transferred here. 1.We have been living in Alberta since my father was transferred here. 2.We have lived in Alberta since my father was transferred here.

Submitted by omi20 on Sun, 30/11/2014 - 11:47

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the last question in quiz "anything the matter?" i have read a lot of such sentences...as "i was at meeting the target" i just cant get these questions P.S. how much questions we ask, it's our right to get answered so please need some satisfactory reply British team :)

Hello omi20,

The question 'Anything the matter?' is really the question 'Is anything the matter?'. The auxiliary verb 'do/does' and the verb 'be' are often omitted from the beginning of sentences in colloquial English. Strictly speaking, it's not correct, but this is the way many people speak.

I don't understand your second question - could you please rephrase it?

You can ask up to one question per day if you like, but we might not always be able to answer them - we have a lot of other work each day in addition to the dozens of questions we typically get.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by omi20 on Thu, 20/11/2014 - 10:51

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hi British council team, congrats on your super hard work and sincere efforts towards your web followers :) can u please explain the difference btw these two sentences 1. you will be tired out after you have been working all night 2. you will be tired out after you have worked all night P.S. check out these sentences whether grammatically right or wrong 2nd question: is that necessary that perfect continuous tenses be used with "for" n "since" or any time or period reference...that we read in our school tenses books and now things are bit changed

Hello omi20,

Thanks for your nice comment! Both of the sentences are grammatically correct, though 'You will be tired out after working all night' would be probably be more commonly said. The sentence with the continuous form emphasises the action of working at this time a bit more than the other, but there's really no difference between them in terms of meaning.

It's not absolutely necessary to use a time reference in a sentence with the present perfect continuous, though it is quite common. By the way, you might want to take a look at our Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous page.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tharindu lakshan on Tue, 04/11/2014 - 06:03

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hallo Could i know what is the difference between THINK - SUPPOSE ? tharindu

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 04/11/2014 - 11:13

In reply to by Tharindu lakshan

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Hello Tharindu,

I'd suggest you look up both words in our dictionary (see the search box on the right), especially 'suppose', as it has a more specific meaning. After you've read the definitions and examples, if it's still unclear, then please attempt to explain the difference in a comment and we'll be happy to help you if you need it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zaid Borini on Tue, 14/10/2014 - 09:53

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Hello I want to know how can be this Question referring to the past (So I say to him, 'What's your game, son?') Thanks Zaid

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 15/10/2014 - 13:16

In reply to by Zaid Borini

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Hello Zaid,

This is a slang expression which means 'What are you doing?' or 'What are you trying to do?' and which is used when we are suspicious of how a person is behaving.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tharindu lakshan on Wed, 24/09/2014 - 14:38

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Hello, I want to know what's the correct form? *You looks pretty. *Your looks pretty. *You're look pretty. thanx...

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 01/10/2014 - 11:05

In reply to by Tharindu lakshan

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Hello Tharindu lakshan,

I'm afraid none of these are correct! The correct form is:

You look pretty.

The verb would be 'looks' if the subject were a third-person subject, such as 'he', 'she' etc.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xoxopooja on Tue, 23/09/2014 - 18:58

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hello Here two sentence 1)" She has returned two days ago/before"2)"She returned two days ago" both sentence seems same but why 1st sentence wrong ? Another question Have you taken lunch? yes I have taken lunch. yes I took at 1 pm . why we can't use "yes i have taken lunch at 1 pm '

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 23/09/2014 - 20:55

In reply to by xoxopooja

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Hello xoxopooja,

The examples are not the same. They have different verb forms: have + past participle (the present perfect) and the second form of the verb (the past simple).

When there is a concrete time for a given action ('two days ago' / 'at 1 pm'), we use the past simple. We use the present perfect when the time of the action is not given.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sam Os on Tue, 23/09/2014 - 10:51

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Hi id like to ask about number 5and 8 I thought the answer is present but the correct answer is the past . could you please explain it ti me?

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 23/09/2014 - 21:12

In reply to by Sam Os

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Hi Sam Os,

Number 5 uses a present simple verb but the time reference is past time, and it is describing a narrative (story) which is always set in the past. The present tense is used to make it sound more immediate, just as sports commentators use present tenses.

Number 8 is similar. It describes a performance (either an actor or a director) which is in the past - the film or show has been made - using a present form to make it sound more immediate.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kevin_in_China on Sat, 09/08/2014 - 10:18

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Greetings from China. I am lucky to have found your website that is both educational and informative! I am a native Chinese living in China. I am currently writing a memoir in English, stories that happened in the past. So past tense is used. But one thing puzzles me -- should past tense or present tense be used, when a fact that has existed in the past till the present day is mentioned? Such as in the sentences: 1) So we arrived in Nanjing in 1962. Nanjing is the capital city of Jiangsu province. Nanjing has been the capital city of Jiangsu province for hundreds of years till today. Should the above be "Nanjing is..." or "Nanjing was..."? 2) It was mid-autumn and the weather was still hot as the old saying goes, "There will still be 18 'autumn tigers' to catch" ( that is, 18 more hot days to go) after autumn descends. A) Should it be "as the old saying goes" or "as the old saying went"? B) "There will still be..." or "there will still be..."? and C) "autumn descends" or "autumn descended"? 3) He died on September 3, 1994. A tragedy that had happened to his family two months ago might have hastened the arrival of his final day. A) Should it be "might have" or "may have"? B) Is the "two months ago" usage here correct? If not, how many ways to make it correct? and C) Overall, after you have corrected the above two issues, does the above sentence agree to the standard written English? Thanks a million from a loyal foreign user of your great site!
Hi Kevin, I don't know if anyone has answered your interesting questions already, but here's my 2 cents (as a native English speaker from the US). 1. In the phrase "Nanjing is the capital city" the meaning is clear that it is now the capital city. If you said "Nanjing has been the capital city for hundreds of years" the meaning would still be clear that Nanjing is still the capital city. If you said "Nanjing was the capital city" the meaning is that Nanjing is no longer the capital city. 2. A. Depends on whether it is still a current saying or not. Is it something your grandmother used to say but a youth of today would not be familiar with? In that case use "went". If it is still a saying in use, then use "goes". Personally, I would use a period after "hot" because "hot as" is a phrase and so it's a little confusing to read. "... the weather was still hot. As the old saying goes..." B. "There ...catch. " It's a stand-alone sentence. C. To me "autumn descends" is the one to use. It's talking in generalities. "Autumn descended" sounds like a one-time event in the past. 3. Either "might have" or "may have" will work. But "two months ago" sounds like you're talking from the perspective of now. If you mean 2 months before his death in 1994, that is not clear. So you could change "ago" to "before" or "before his death" to make it clearer. Personally I would change the sentence to be "A family tragedy two months before may have hastened his death." But there are different styles of writing. Your command of English is excellent. I am not an English teacher, but I am a native speaker. Trying to help.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 29/09/2014 - 13:24

In reply to by Trying to help

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Hello Trying to help,

It's always great to see our users helping each other out - thanks for your contribution!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kevin_in_China on Mon, 20/10/2014 - 14:37

In reply to by Trying to help

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Hi Trying to Help: I find your advice extremely helpful. For example, the use of "before" but not "ago" in the perfect tense, which has puzzled me for years. In my memoir, I used the past tense (including "past simple", "past continuous", and "past perfect") tenses throughout. I was told that using the present tense to tell stories that had happened in the past will make the reading more appealing. Would you think so, too? Thanks a lot ! Regards, Kevin_in_China

Submitted by MamaAisha on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 14:43

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Thanx....Mr Kirk....

Submitted by MamaAisha on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 08:42

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Hi...for more explanation on my question above. In the above quiz I failed these questions completely and when I checketd out the answers the present tense used here explain about past events please help me. So I say to him, 'What's your game, son? McEwan handles the characters with his customary skill. Brando plays an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses.

Hello MamaAisha,

The first sentence could be from a story that you are telling. Perhaps you had an argument with a young man and you're describing it to a friend later that day or even months later. When we tell such stories, we often use the present tense to narrate the story. It can make the story more lively to do this. It's also possible to use the narrative tenses (past simple, past continuous and past perfect) to tell a story, but the present is another option.

The second two sentences could be from novel or film reviews (McEwan is a famous English novelist and Brando was an actor). Reviews often use the present tense in their reviews of artistic works. Novels and films were obviously created in the past, and so this use of the present is speaking about the past in that sense.

I hope this clarifies the issue for you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MamaAisha on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 08:28

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Hi...I'v not understood when present tense can explain past event. can you please give me more elaboration on that? thanx...

Submitted by orton on Sat, 26/07/2014 - 16:34

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Does both the sentence means that he ia still reading book ??

Submitted by orton on Sat, 26/07/2014 - 16:32

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I have been reading book. I have been reading book for 2 hours.. Does both the sentence means that he is still feeling sick.. The reason I am asking this question is that present perfect continus tense is used for an action which started in the the past and is still continuing or for an action which have stopped recently...So how do we get to know that the action has just stopped or is still continuing ??? Plz sir help me out Thanks

Hello orton,

Whether or not the action is still ongoing or not is not inherent in the form; generally, the context tells us this. If the context does not make it clear, and it is important that this information is given, then the speaker can make it explicit. Decontextualised sentences are often unclear in this way, but if the sentences you quote were in context (such as our being able to see the speaker) then there would probably not be any ambiguity. The lack of clarity comes from the lack of context here.

You can find more information on the present perfect simple and continuous here and here.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Oscas Po on Fri, 25/07/2014 - 12:59

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Hi teacher! which sentense is correct gramatically 1. I will let you know as soon as I find out 2. I will let you know as soon as I have found out thanks for consideration

Hi Oscas Po,

Both sentence are possible. We can use the present simple or the present perfect in time clauses such as this, and the meaning is the same.

You can find more information on time clauses here and on time and other clauses here.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mr Peter, here in your comment you wrote "Both sentence are posible". Is that right or it is necessary to take a plural noun "sentenceS"? I saw it more more than once and I am puzzled because sentence is a countable noun and after both it is always used plural nouns, right? Thank in advance

Hi swxswx,

Yes, you are correct. It should say 'Both sentences'. I'm afraid I'm not very good at typing and sometimes these kinds of mistakes (called 'typos') get through!

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, thank you very much. I learned these things right here on LE and I thought that I was wrong when I saw this. It is clear now! Regardings

Submitted by orton on Thu, 24/07/2014 - 20:34

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Thanks for your comment....I have one more doubt I have been feeling sick .. I have been feeling sick for two days. Does both the sentence means that he is still feeling sick Or does it mean that in the first sentence he felt sick for few days but is not feeling sick currently ? Because present perfect. continuous tense is used for an action which started in the past and is stiil continuing or for an action which have stopped recently.. so how do we get to know whether the action is till continuing or have just stopped ??

Submitted by orton on Tue, 22/07/2014 - 21:22

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I am having a problem understanding the meaning of a sentence that uses the present perfect continuous without stating a period of time (how long, since, for, etc). Can the sentence still indicate that the activity is happening from the past until now if time period is not mentioned? If the time period is mentioned, can the sentence means that the activity was recent or just ended? I have been looking forward to the holiday. Does this sentence mean that I am still looking forward to the holiday and that it is not currently the holiday? Or does this sentence mean that I have stopped looking forward to the holiday since I am on hday now? Or can it mean both? I have been feeling sad. Does this sentence mean that I am still feeling sad now? Or does it mean that I felt sad before and that I no longer feel sad now? Or can it mean bhototh ??

Hello orton,

The sentence 'I have been looking forward to the holiday' means that you are still looking forward to it at the moment of speaking, but this does not mean that you are not yet on holiday. You could be on holiday at the moment of speaking, but still be looking forward to it because you are just at the start of the holiday, for example. The key thing is that the anticipation (the looking forward) has not finished yet.

The second sentence is similar: when the speaker says it, they still feel sad, but they may be about to feel better. For example, you might say 'I have been feeling sad... (sudden smile) but now that you're here I feel better!'

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Oscas Po on Wed, 02/07/2014 - 11:43

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HELLOW! I'm having had time on how to use present tense to talk about the past, some examples will help me understand it better. can you give me some examples? looking forwad your consideration thank you

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 03/07/2014 - 11:09

In reply to by Oscas Po

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Hi Opizzle,

Sentences 3, 5 and 8 in the exercise above give examples of sentences in which the present is used to talk about the past. In 5 and 8, the performance of an actor and the novel written by an author are mentioned in the present, but clearly the actor's performance was in the past and the author already wrote the book that is being talked about.

The present simple is often used in this way to talk about any kind of story, including films, plays, novels and even personal anecdotes. For example, if I'm describing what happened yesterday when I picked up my son from school: "I go into the school and Joe is standing there without his backpack. I ask him where it is and he shrugs his shoulders. So I go to talk with his teacher...." Past tenses could also be used here, but often people use present tenses when it's clear the past is being talked about.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chhlam on Fri, 09/05/2014 - 06:20

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Hello, Teacher! I want to ask you the question about how to use present perfect & present perfect continuous. He has been working there for three months now./ He has worked there for three months now. I knew that PP base on result and PPC base on activity. why both of two sentences can use. Could you clarify about that?

Hello chhlam,

You are correct that both sentences are possible, and correct on the reason why.  It's really a question of emphasis: do we think of the time as a unit which may or may not continue - as an achievement by the person - or do we rather think of it as a process which is still ongoing.

It is a nuanced distinction and a tricky area.  You can find more information on this page, plus some exercises to help you.

Thanks Teacher, I will ask you more when I have question.
teacher, this sentence is Past or Present? Brando plays an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses. Can we use present to refer the past action?

Hello chhlam,

In some contexts we can use present forms in this way.  The most common are informal anecdotes and film or book reviews (as here).  Present forms add more immediacy to these kinds of descriptions, bringing them to life for the listener.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ankita2219 on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 09:37

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Can I rephrase the last sentence of "I'm having a party at the weekend. Would you like to come?" as "Will you come" or "Are you coming". This will help me identify my flaws can you please answer me? Thank you.

Hello ankita2219,

Those are all acceptable questions.  'Would you like...' is polite and less direct.  'Will you come' is more direct and suggests we know the person better.  'Are you coming' is very direct and is probably what we would say to a friend or someone we know very well.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ankita2219 on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 09:29

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In the example given under "to talk about the future", what does the phrase "you have been working all night" in "You will be tired out after you have been working all night" refer to? Can we rephrase the sentence as " You will get tired if you work all night" or " You will be tired out working all night." Kindly clarify my doubts.

Hello ankita2219,

Yes, you can rephrase the sentence in those ways.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rahma_Putri on Wed, 30/04/2014 - 00:58

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Hmm I have a question.. A: How long has he been the principal of our school? B: Since I ....... this school a.was entering b.have entered c.had entered d.entered e.had been entering What's the best answer do you think?