Present Continuous or Present Progressive

1. When we use the Present Continuous

As with all tenses in English, the speaker’s attitude is as important as the time of the action or event. When someone uses the present continuous, they are thinking about something that is unfinished or incomplete.

The present continuous is used:

  • to describe an action that is going on at this moment e.g.
    You are using the InternetYou are studying English grammar.
  • to describe an action that is going on during this period of time or a trend, e.g.
    Are you still working for the same company? More and more people are becomingvegetarian.
  • to describe an action or event in the future, which has already been planned or prepared (See also ‘Ways of expressing the future) e.g.
    We’re going on holiday tomorrowI’m meeting my boyfriend tonightAre they visitingyou next winter?
  • to describe a temporary event or situation, e.g. 
    He usually plays the drums, but he’s playing bass guitar tonight
    The weather forecast was good, but it’s raining at the moment.
  • with ‘always, forever, constantly’, to describe and emphasise a continuing series of repeated actions, e.g.
    Harry and Sally are always arguingYou’re forever complaining about your mother-in-law!

BE CAREFUL! Some verbs are not used in the continuous form – see below.

Verbs that are not normally used in the continuous form

The verbs in the list below are normally used in the simple form, because they refer to states, rather than actions or processes:

List of common verbs normally used in simple form:

Senses / Perception
feel*, hear, see*, smell, taste
Opinion
assume, believe, consider, doubt, feel (= think), find (= consider), suppose, think*
Mental states
forget, imagine, know, mean, notice, recognise, remember, understand
Emotions / desires
envy, fear, dislike, hate, hope, like, love, mind, prefer, regret, want, wish
Measurement
contain, cost, hold, measure, weigh
Others
look (=resemble), seem, be (in most cases), have (when it means to possess)*

Notes:

  • ‘Perception’ verbs (see, hear, feel, taste, smell) are often used with ‘can’: e.g.
    I can see…
  • * These verbs may be used in the continuous form but with a different meaning, compare:
  • This coat feels nice and warm. (= your perception of the coat’s qualities)
  • John’s feeling much better now (= his health is improving)
  • She has three dogs and a cat. (=possession)
  • She’s having supper. (= She’s eating)
  • I can see Anthony in the garden (= perception)
  • I’m seeing Anthony later (= We are planning to meet)

Examples

  • wish I was in Greece now.
  • She wants to see him now.
  • I don’t understand why he is shouting.
  • feel we are making a mistake.
  • This glass holds half a litre.

2. Present continuous: how to construct it

The present continuous of any verb is composed of two parts – the present tense of the verb to be + the present participle of the main verb.

(The form of the present participle is: base+ing, e.g. talking, playing, moving, smiling)

Affirmative
Subjectto be+ base+ing
sheistalking
   
Negative
Subjectto be + not+ base+ing
sheis not (isn’t)talking
   
Interrogative
to be+ subject+ base+ing
isshetalking?

Example: to go, present continuous

AffirmativeNegativeInterrogative
I am goingI am not goingAm I going?
You are goingYou aren’t going.Are you going?
He, she, it is goingHe, she, it isn’t goingIs he, she, it going?
We are goingWe aren’t goingAre we going?
You are goingYou aren’t goingAre you going?
They are goingThey aren’t goingAre they going?

Note: alternative negative contractions: I’m not going, you’re not going, he’s not going et


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