Present Continuous Tense | Examples & Exercises
The present continuous (also called the present progressive) is a verb tense used to refer to a temporary action that is currently taking place. It can also describe future plans (e.g., “I am throwing a party next week”).
Table of contents
- How to use the present continuous
- When you shouldn’t use the present continuous
- Present continuous vs. present simple
- Present continuous vs. present perfect continuous
- How to form negatives
- How to form questions
- How to form the passive voice
- Exercises: Present simple vs. present continuous
- Other interesting language articles
- Frequently asked questions about the present continuous tense
How to use the present continuous
The present continuous uses different forms of the verb “be” depending on the person of the subject. The first person uses “am” the third person singular uses “is,” and all other persons use “are.” The verb is often contracted with the subject (e.g., “I’m,” “she’s,” “we’re”). The form of the other verb doesn’t change; it’s always the present participle (“-ing” form).
The present continuous describes an action or process that is ongoing (continuous). It is most commonly used to talk about actions that are currently happening and about future plans and intentions.
There are also some other contexts where you may encounter the present continuous. It can be used to:
- Describe some new trend or development that differs from a past state
- Describe a process of change over time
- Emphasize (in combination with the adverb “always”) that something happens over and over again
When you shouldn’t use the present continuous
You may have noticed that all the verbs used in the present continuous tense in the examples above describe an action or process—these are called dynamic verbs. The present continuous tense normally requires a dynamic verb.
Verbs that instead describe a state of being such as emotion, belief, perception, or possession are called stative verbs. Some examples include “prefer,” “appear,” “exist,” and “own.” Stative verbs should not be used in the present continuous tense.
- I am believing that love at first sight is existing.
- I believe that love at first sight exists.
- I am owning many books.
- I own many books.
Note that some verbs can be either stative or dynamic, depending on the specific sense in which they are used.
For example, the verb “think” may describe a fixed opinion or belief (in which case it’s stative) or a process of thought or consideration (in which case it’s dynamic).
- I am thinking that Rajit will arrive tomorrow.
- I think that Rajit will arrive tomorrow.
- I think about going for a bike ride at the weekend.
- I am thinking about going for a bike ride at the weekend.
Present continuous vs. present simple
If you’re unsure whether to use the present continuous (e.g., “is running”) or the present simple (e.g., “runs”) in a sentence, apply the following rules:
- To describe something that’s in the process of happening right now, use the present continuous.
- To describe a habit, general truth, or fixed situation or state, use the present simple.
When describing events in the near future, the two tenses can often be used interchangeably, but there are still some distinctions:
- The present continuous refers to an action someone is about to perform or to a future event or plan (not necessarily very specific or clearly defined).
- The present simple refers to a clearly defined and official plan for the (near) future or to a regularly scheduled event that will repeat in the future.
Present continuous vs. present perfect continuous
Another tense that’s sometimes confused with the present continuous is the present perfect continuous (e.g., “has been writing”). These tenses should not be used interchangeably.
Like the present continuous, the present perfect continuous also typically refers to an action that is currently ongoing. But there are two key differences that distinguish it from the present continuous:
- It emphasizes the fact that a current action extends into the past and is often used alongside an adverbial phrase that specifies when the action started (e.g., “since July” or “all week”).
- It can also refer to a completed action, as long as it was completed only recently.
How to form negatives
You can create a negative statement in the present continuous by inserting the adverb not between the two verbs. The adverb is often contracted with the first verb (as “aren’t” or “isn’t”), but this is not done in the first person (“amn’t” is not a word in standard English).
How to form questions
Yes–no questions are formed in the present continuous by placing the auxiliary verb (“is,” “are,” or “am”) first, followed by the subject and then the present participle (“-ing” verb).
Other kinds of questions are formed using wh-words (interrogative pronouns such as “who” and interrogative adverbs such as “why”). Follow the same word order as above, but with the wh-word added at the start of the sentence.
How to form the passive voice
The passive voice creates a sentence in which the subject is not the person or thing carrying out an action, but rather the person or thing being acted upon.
In the present continuous, the passive voice consists of the subject, a form of “be” (“is,” “are,” or “am”), the present participle “being,” and finally the past participle of the verb describing the action.
Exercises: Present simple vs. present continuous
Test your understanding of the difference between the present simple and the present continuous with the exercises below. Fill in one of the two options in each sentence.
Other interesting language articles
Frequently asked questions about the present continuous tense
- What is the “-ing” form of a verb?
The “-ing” form of a verb is called the present participle. Present participles can be used as adjectives (e.g., “a thrilling story”) and to form the continuous verb tenses (e.g., the present continuous: “We are partying”).
- When do we use the present continuous?
We use the present continuous tense (also called the present progressive) to describe a temporary action that is currently occurring (e.g., “I am gardening right now”) or sometimes a planned future event (e.g., “We are traveling to Greece this summer”).
It’s used differently from the simple present, which instead indicates a habit (e.g., “I garden on Tuesdays”), a general truth (e.g., “Bears hibernate in the winter”), or a fixed situation or state (e.g., “She speaks French and German”).
- What is the simple present form of be?
In the simple present tense, the stative verb “be” is used to describe temporary present situations (e.g., “I am tired”) and unchanging situations (e.g., “Laura is a doctor”). The form of the verb varies depending on the subject:
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