Present continuous tense

Present continuous tense

By Alena Lien, 

23 September 2020

Click below to expand each section. 

Form



Affirmative sentences


[subject] + ["am/are/is"] + [present participle of main verb]



The verb "to be" is an irregular verb, so care should be taken with the different forms.


Conjugations of "to be" and their contracted forms:

  • I am =          I'm

  • You are =    You're

  • We are =     We're

  • They are =  They're

  • He is =         He's

  • She is =       She's

  • It is =            It's



It is possible to have the verb "to be" as both the auxiliary and main verb. 


  • "I'm eating lunch downstairs."

  • "He's being nice."



Negative sentences


[subject] + ["am/are/is not"] + [present participle of main verb]


  • "I'm not working at the moment."

  • "Our company is not doing so well this year."



Questions


["am/are/is"] + [subject] + [present participle of main verb]


[question word] + ["am/are/is"] + [subject] + [present participle of main verb]



Question words are:

  • Who

  • What

  • When

  • Why

  • Where

  • Which

  • How



It is possible to have the verb "to be" as both the auxiliary and main verb.


  • "Is your English getting better?"

  • "Why are you being mean?"



It is possible to make negative questions even though their use is quite specific. The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. However, contracted forms are preferred in general.


Contracted form:

["aren't/isn't"] + [subject] + [present participle of main verb]


[question words] + ["aren't/isn't"] + [subject] +[present participle of main verb]


  • "Isn't your English getting better?"

  • "Why aren't you being nice?"



Full form:

["am/are/is"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [present participle of main verb]


[question word] + ["am/are/is"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [present participle of main verb]


  • "Is your English not getting better?"

  • "Why are you not being nice?"



There is no contraction with "am" and "not" for the first person pronoun, "I." However, "aren't I" is common in informal language even if it is grammatically incorrect.



Grammatically incorrect but idiomatic:

  • "Aren't I smart?"


Correct:

  • "Am I not smart?"




Dynamic vs Static verbs



When it comes to continuous tenses in general, they should be used with dynamic verbs, not stative verbs.


Dynamic verbs (or action verbs) indicate action or progress. Examples include "eat," "play," "work," and "sleep."


Stative verbs (or event verbs) is used to indicate a state or condition that do not show qualities of change or progress. Examples include "believe," "love," "belong," and "know." These are typically not used in continuous tenses.


And then, there are verbs that are both dynamic and stative which can be used in the present continuous tense. Like "think," "be," "have," "see" and "taste."



Incorrect examples:

  • "They're preferring the steak."

  • "I'm understanding English."


 

Having said that, it is also common for native speakers to use the present continuous with stative verbs even if it is grammatically incorrect. Quite often this is done to express exaggeration or emphasise their feelings. 



Grammatically incorrect but idiomatic examples:

  • "I'm loving what I'm hearing!"

  • "We're hearing what he's saying but it's not good enough."




Timeline



The present continuous tense is usually used to talk about events that are happening at the time of speaking.


Otherwise, it is sometimes used for telling stories in the present tense. 


Please note: See Future: I do & I'm doing to see future uses of the present continuous tense.



20_edited.jpg

Uses



1.   To talk about an action in progress at the time of speaking.



  • "I'm cooking now so dinner won't be long."

  • "What are you doing?"




2.   To talk about a current temporary action.



  • "I'm reading a book by Bram Stoker."

  • "He's staying at a hotel nearby."




3.   To describe developing situations - both fast and gradual.



  • "It's good to hear the economy is improving."

  • "It's getting dark."




4.   To refer to a regular action around a point of time.



With words like "normally," "typically" or "usually."


  • "He's usually writing at this time."

  • "Normally, we're having dinner when he arrives home."




5.   To express problematic regular actions.



With words like "always," "constantly," and "forever."


  • "I'm constantly worrying about the future."

  • "She's always throwing things out."




6.   For telling stories in the present tense.



  • "So I'm standing there in my pyjamas and the monster starts reaching out to me."




More verb tenses