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.

"Present Continuous" Tense in English grammar

What Is Present Continuous Tense?

The present continuous (also known as the present progressive) is a grammatical tense used in modern English to indicate that an action is currently happening.

Present Continuous: Structure

The present continuous is formed by combining the present simple of the verb 'to be' with 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

To form negative sentences in the present continuous, we place 'not' after the auxiliary verb 'to be'. Let's take a look at some 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 in the present simple, we also use 'am,' 'is,' or 'are' before the subject to form a 'yes/no question' in the present continuous tense.

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 simply place the question word at the beginning of the sentence and then form the question using the appropriate form of 'be' as in the present continuous. 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 for adding -ing to the base form of verbs, see here.

Using Present Continuous to Talk about Ongoing Events

Present Continuous: Uses

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

  1. Actions Happening Now
  2. Actions Happening Not at the Exact Moment of Speaking
  3. States That Are True at the Moment of Speaking
  4. Actions That Are Planned for the Future
  5. Repeated Actions (Usually Annoying)
  6. Story-telling and Narration

Actions Happening Now

We can use the present continuous tense to talk about an action happening right 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 reading about present continuous tense.

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

He is laughing.

In sport commentaries when the action is happening at the moment and is in progress the present continuous tense is commonly used. However, it is usually followed by a present simple tense or 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.

Actions Happening Not at the Exact Moment of Speaking

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 started some moments ago, is still ongoing, and is expected to continue for some more time. Check out the examples:

I am learning to drive.

We are fighting for our freedom.

We use the present continuous tense to describe an action or a trend that is new and different from previous occurrences within its category. This highlights a contrast between the current situation and its previous counterparts. Look at the examples below:

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

What sort of music are they listening to?

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.

States That Are True at the Moment of Speaking

We use the present continuous tense to talk about something that we perceive as temporary. A temporary thing does not remain the same in the long term of time. It means that it will change, but the exact timing of the change is uncertain. Here are the examples:

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

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

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 wearing a sweet perfume.

Actions That Are Planned for the Future

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 can use the main verb to have' in the 'continuous form' to refer to a special occasion. Remember we limited the structure by using the main verb have. Check out the example for more clarification:

They are having a party next weekend to celebrate their anniversary.

Frequent Actions

We use the present continuous tense with adverbs such as 'always', 'forever', 'all the time' and 'constantly' to emphasize a continuing series of repeated actions that happen regularly on a repeating basis. This usage highlights the ongoing nature of the actions. 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 narrate past events when we are telling a story. Telling a story involves summarizing or recounting events. 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...

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' and '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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