Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive

Updated February 2017

There are two present verb tenses in English: the simple present and the present progressive (also known as the present continuous). Students sometimes have trouble figuring out when to use each tense, but I’ve found that using a chart such as the one below is a great way to clearly explain the differences between the two tenses.

Simple Present

Form

Base V (+ -s with third person singular subject)

The simple present looks like the base form of the verb. With a third person singular subject, add the ending -s. Remind students that subjects that need -s include he, she, it, singular count nouns, or non-count nouns.

Time Markers

A. Repeated Actions

  • every (every day, every week, every month, every year, etc.)
  • once, twice, three times, etc. (once a week, twice a month, three times a year, etc.)
  • adverbs of frequency (always, almost always, often, usually, sometimes, almost never, never, etc.)

B. Non-Action Verbs

  • be
  • have
  • feelings (love, like, hate, etc.)
  • thinking verbs (think, know, believe, etc.)
  • five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell)

*Note: There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, some of the verbs above use the present progressive when taking on an “action” role, such as I’m thinking of last night (“remembering”) vs. I think that global warming is a serious problem (“opinion”). Point this out to students, but remind them that these verbs don’t usually use the -ing form.

C. True Facts

  • scientific facts
  • historical facts
  • unchanging truths
  • etc.

D. Schedules

  • TV schedules
  • transportation timetables
  • etc.

Examples

  • I talk to my best friend every day. (repeated action)
  • She never eats meat. (repeated action with adverb of frequency)
  • He thinks that you shouldn’t go out tonight. (non-action verb)
  • Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. (true fact)
  • Our favourite show starts at 8:00 pm. (schedule)

Present Progressive

Form

Be + -ing V

The present progressive is formed by taking the Be verb and an action verb + -ing. Remind students that forms of the Be verb include am, are, is, and are, depending on the subject.

Time Markers

  • now
  • right now
  • currently
  • nowadays
  • these days
  • at the moment
  • at this time
  • presently

Examples

  • I am studying English nowadays.
  • At the moment, Jim is taking a nap.
  • He is shopping right now, so he can’t meet up with us.

*Note on non-action verbs: Even with the time markers above, non-action verbs almost never take -ing. For example:

  • She is happy now.
  • She is being happy now.
  • My friend has a boyfriend at the moment.
  • My friend is having a boyfriend at the moment.

Conclusion

Time Markers provide the best clues for students to figure out what verb tense to use. I always suggest that students memorize the time markers that correspond to certain verb tenses.

Practice

Try our Grammar Practice Worksheets, Grammar Stories, and Basic Grammar Sentences sections for many lessons on the simple present and the present progressive. The Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive lesson has exercises that directly contrast the two verb tenses. We’ve also got a new Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive resource chart and worksheet.

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13 comments

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  1. christinacastro@rocketmail.com'

    Maria christina says:

    Feb 17, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Very interesting ! and its easy to learn for my students .Thank you so much .

    Reply

  2. opal.edwards-smith@yrdsb.on.ca'

    Opal Edwards-Smith says:

    Nov 02, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Love the idea of having the option to save a blog post in the future.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 07, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      We hope to have this feature available soon! Thanks for your input.

      Reply

  3. durena@triad.rr.com'

    Dave Urena says:

    Sep 13, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    My (adult, less formally-educated, Spanish-speaking) students often get confused about the continuous vs. simple present forms (because the forms are used interchangeably in Spanish) – even when I’ve used explanations about time markers that help identify and distinguish the situations in English. A recent teaching method I’ve begun to use is to say that we use the continuous form for an observation. By using the term “observation,” my students focus on the current situation, and on an action that is happening. I’ve seen a marked improvement in recognizing the difference between the two kinds of situations.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      Excellent tip, Dave! Thanks so much for sharing it here.

      Reply

  4. rosefyre22@gmail.com'

    Kathleen says:

    Jul 28, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Is there a way to save blog posts to a folder?

    Reply

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Jul 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      Hi, Kathleen! This is not currently an option, but I shared your suggestion with our developers and they loved it. We’re redesigning our blog, and will try to add this feature in the next update. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Cheers,
      Tara

      Reply

  5. chompoocpz@gmail.com'

    Chomporu says:

    Jan 11, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you so much !!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 12, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting. :)

      Reply

  6. sand089083@gmail.com'

    Sandee Waiwadhana says:

    Aug 13, 2014 at 2:15 am

    These are very interesting!

    Reply

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