"Present Continuous" Tense in English grammar

Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is a basic tense. It is usually one of the first tenses you start to learn when you first start studying English.

Beginner
"Present Continuous" Tense in English grammar

What Is Present Continuous Tense?

The present continuous (also called the present progressive) is a grammatical tense used in modern English that indicates an action is happening now and may continue into the future.

Present Continuous: Structure

The present continuous is composed of two parts: the present simple of the verb 'to be' + the present participle of the main verb (verb + -ing).

Subject Verb to be Present Participle
I am reading
You/We/They are buying
He/She/It is walking

Present Continuous: Negation

For negative sentences we put 'not' after the auxiliary verb 'to be.' Look at the examples:

He is reading. → He is not reading. → He isn't reading.

Here, you can see the process of negation by adding 'not.' You can also see how contraction is done in negative form.

They are sleeping. → They are not sleeping. → They aren't sleeping.

Tip!

With the exception of 'am not,' you can contract the other conjugated forms of 'be' (is, are) in the negative form.

They are not sleeping. → They aren't sleeping.

Present Continuous: Questions

Just like we made the question with 'be' in the present simple, here we also put 'am,' 'is,' or 'are' before the subject to make a 'yes/no question':

He is working. → Is he working?

Here, you can see how to change an affirmative sentence into a question.

We are meeting at six. → Are we meeting at six?

For 'wh questions,' we just put the question word at the front, then make the yes/no question. For example:

He is working in the morning. → When is he working?

We are meeting them at six. → Who are we meeting?

Tip!

If you want to learn more about spelling rules of adding -ing to the base form of verbs, see here.

Present Continuous: Uses

Using Present Continuous to Talk about Ongoing Events

When someone uses the present continuous, they are thinking about:

Actions Happening Now

We can use the present continuous tense to talk about an action happening exactly now. It means that the action is in progress at the moment, and we are in the middle of an activity. And we are talking about it at the moment. For example:

You are studying English grammar.

In this example, we are referring to an action being done exactly at this moment.

He is laughing.

We can use the present continuous tense to talk about an action that is taking place around now but not at the exact moment of speech. This means that the action has started some moments ago, it is still happening, and it probably continues happening some moments more. Check out the examples:

I am living with my sister until I find an apartment.

Here, we are referring to an action that is happening but not exactly at the moment of speaking.

He is working in Dubai.

We use the present continuous tense to talk about something which we think is temporary. A temporary thing does not remain the same in the long term of time. It means that it will change, but you are not sure when it changes. Here are the examples:

Ellen cannot come to the phone since she is sleeping.

As you can see, we are referring to an action being done at the moment but this action will not last forever.

I'm working in London for the next two weeks.

Future Plans or Arrangements

We can use the present continuous tense to talk about an action or event in the future, which has already been planned. Whenever there is a firm plan, or the decision has been made in advance, you can use the present continuous tense. For example:

What are you doing next week?

Here, we are asking someone about their firm plans for the future.

I'm visiting my parents this Christmas.

We use the present continuous tense to describe an action or a trend that is new and contrasts with a previous state. In this case, we are talking about something which is not the same as the previous types of its own family. Look at the examples:

What sort of music are they listening to?

These days most people are using email instead of writing letters.

We use the present continuous tense to talk about something which is changing, growing, or developing. This means that the action is turning to another level or basis over time step by step. Check out the examples:

The climate is changing rapidly.

Here, we are referring to a rapid change that is being made.

Your English is improving.

Frequent Actions

We use present continuous tense with 'always, forever, constantly' to talk about something which happens, again and again, emphasizing a continuing series of repeated actions. Remember, in this case, the action happens regularly on a repeating basis and it continues at the same time. Remember, in this case, the speaker usually uses some adverbs such as 'always,' 'all the time,' etc. For example:

They are always arguing.

Here, we are referring to an action that keeps on happening all the time.

You're constantly complaining about your mother-in-law!

Story-telling and Narration

We can use the present continuous to talk about the past when we are telling a story. Telling a story is the same as summarizing something. For example:

The other day I'm just walking down the street when suddenly Sam calls me and asks me to come visit her. So I'm thinking when I should go.

Remember, this sentence conveys a 'past tense.'

We can use the present continuous to talk about the past when summarizing a book, film, or play. There are different ways of summarizing a story, one of the common ways is to use the present continuous tense. For example:

One day when Alice is talking to the mad hatter, she sees a strange animal in the forest. She thinks what is happening...

Special Situations

We can use the main verbs 'to be' and 'to have' in the 'continuous form' to refer to a special occasion. Remember we limited the structure by using the main verbs be and have. Check out the examples for more clarification.

She is having her first birthday party.

He is being the president of America for the next four years.

Sport Commentaries

In sport commentaries when the action is happening at the moment and it is in progress you can use the present continuous, however, it is usually followed by a present simple tense, or it follows a present simple tense. Look at the examples:

He is passing Christian and shoots the ball.

Here, we are talking about an action that is happening right now and at the moment of speaking and it probably will not last longer than the sentence itself.

She is swimming faster than the others and passes the end line.

When Not to Use Present Continuous Tense

We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs (also called non-continuous verbs). These verbs are normally used in the simple form because they refer to states, rather than actions or progress. Some examples of these verbs are to have, to know, to want, to cost.

She has three dogs and a cat.

This pizza tastes wonderful.

Review

Present continuous tense is used when an action is in progress. Basically, it talks about actions that are happening now and probably will still happen in the future.

Structure subject + to be + gerund + complement or object.
Positive She is trying to be nice.
Negative She isn't trying to be nice.
Yes/no question Is she trying to be nice?
Wh-question What is she trying to do?

Present continuous is used to talk about:

  1. actions happening now
  2. future plans or arrangements
  3. changes and trends
  4. frequent actions
  5. story-telling and narration

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