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Choosing the Right Present Tense: Simple, Continuous and Perfect

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One of the most difficult parts of learning a new language can be mastering all that grammar – especially tenses! These can sometimes feel like a minefield, so to help you master the present tense in English, here’s an easy breakdown of the different options, and when to use them:

When to use the present simple tense

For general actions or things that happen all the time,  you can use the present simple tense. This is also, helpfully, one of the simplest tenses to use – so it’s usually one of the first ones you will learn!

Some common situations you’d use it in include:

  1. For actions that are repeated, or happen all the time:

             e.g. “She runs five miles every morning.”

  1. To express facts:

             e.g. “The Earth is part of the solar system.”

  1. And slightly confusingly, to describe events that will happen in the very near future:

              e.g. “The film starts at 5.30pm.”

When to use the present continuous tense

The present continuous tense is all about things that are happening, or not happening – now. Whether it is a short, immediate event or action, or something that is taking place across a longer duration, the key thing is that they are taking place right now. You use it with am/is/are followed by the present participle.

 e.g.  “She is on the phone right now.”

 e.g. “My country is a part of the EU.”

When to use the present perfect tense

This one may be surprising but often, the present perfect is not actually about the present. It’s used instead to describe a period of time before the present – such as describing a past experience that happened, or to describe changes over time from the past to now.

To put it together you use has/have followed by the past participle:

 e.g. “I have seen that movie before.”

 e.g. “You have lost weight since I last saw you!”

You can also use the present perfect tense for a few other special situations.

When you are waiting for an action to take place:

e.g. “The rain has stopped now so we can still go out.”

To describe when multiple things are taking place, across different times:

e.g. “She has been to five interviews so far, but hasn’t got a job offer yet.”