May 27, 2014

Free English Lesson: When to use the present continuous tense

3 minute read

Are you looking for ways to make your use of English more interesting and lively? The present continuous tense is a really helpful bit of grammar and will let you add a touch of punchiness to both your written and spoken English. Read on to discover the proper way to use it!

What is the present continuous?

The present continuous tense is a grammatical tense that can be used to describe when an action happened, or may happen. You can use it to describe both events that are happening in the present – right now, while you are talking about something, or in the future – something that may or will happen later on.

You use the present continuous by using the present form of the verb “be” + the present participle of a verb.

Thing that are happening now

You can use the present continuous to describe immediate events taking place in the current moment:

Eg. “She is eating dinner right now and cannot answer the phone.”

You can also use it in the same way for the negative form:

Eg. “They’re not watching TV at the moment.”

Temporary events

For longer actions that may be taking place for a temporary period only, you can use the present continuous tense to describe them. It can be used for any temporary situation, no matter how long or short it is.

Eg. “He’s studying a new language at the moment.”

A new pattern or habit

A really interesting way of using the present continuous tense is to describe events or actions that are new and different from events in the past. In this case, the tense can be used to highlight the contrast between the old and new.

Eg. “These days, people are writing emails a lot less than they used to a few years ago.”

It can also be used to describe a regular habit that someone has – whether it is a good habit, or a bad one!

Eg. “You’re always running late with all your deadlines!”

Future plans

When describing something that will take place in the future, the present continuous tense can be used when you are discussing something that is already discussed or planned ahead.

Eg. “When we arrive at the airport, we are taking a private car direct to the hotel.”

When not to use!

It’s important to bear in mind that you cannot use the present continuous for all events taking place in the present. You do not use it to describe events that happen normally, or for a long time:

Eg: “I play the piano every morning” is correct.

“I am playing the piano every morning” is not correct, unless it was a new habit you had just started.

Another instance where you do not use the present continuous verb is with non-continuous verbs. These are a small group of verbs that describe things that you cannot normally see someone do, for example: to love, to fear, to want, to cost, and others. With these verbs, you use the present simple tense instead.

Eg. “A loaf of bread costs £1.50.”

You do not say “A loaf of bread is costing £1.50.”

Your turn 

To get to grips with the different uses of the present continuous tense, try writing a sentence for each type of event described above!