We use the present continuous tense to show we are in the middle of an activity that is in progress at this moment. The activity started in the past and will go on in the future.
- I am reading / I'm writing.
So when we use the present continuous tense we are talking about something that is still not yet finished or complete at the time of speaking.
Forming the Present Continuous Tense
The present continuous tense of any verb is formed with the simple present tense of the verb to be (=am, is, are) and the present participle of the main verb (verb + ing)
- I am eating a pie for lunch.
- Mike is walking out after a row with his girlfriend.
- Police are looking through a pile of papers and still haven't found what they want.
We use the present continuous tense:
- for an action that is still happening at the time of speaking.
- She is cooking a meal now.
- for an action that is still going on about this time but not necessary at the time of speaking.
- Jack is teaching at a secondary boys' school. (He is not actually teaching now. He may be watching television or playing with his cat at the moment of speaking.)
- to talk about an action that has been planned or arranged to take place at a particular time in the immediate or distant future.
- We are performing magic tricks on stage in two weeks.
- to describe a situation that is temporary and does not happen as usual.
- He is usually the hero of the film, but he is playing the role of a villain.
- for a changing or evolving situation.
- Pollution is causing global warming.'
- to describe a repeated action that the speaker finds irritating.
- He is forever making unfavourable comments about his mother-in-law.
- with 'always', 'very often', 'forever', 'constantly' to describe an action that happens many times or frequently.
- My old car is always breaking down.
- I very often go to my mum's for tea or coffee.
- He told her that their love would last forever.
- She is constantly reminding me to pay back the money I owe her.
- with time expressions such as now, at this moment, at present, in a minute, just now, today, tonight, tomorrow, nowadays, this week, next week, these days, this year.
With present continuous tense questions, we use: am/are/is + subject + ...ing. E.g. Am I angry? What are your cats doing in my garden? Is your dog barking at the postman?
We use the present continuous tense in the following ways:
- Statement: I am shaving – we place the verb to be (am/is/are) after the subject (I).
- Negative: He is not sleeping – we place not after the verb to be (am/is/are).
- Question: Are they coming here? – we place the verb to be (am/is/are) before the subject (they).
There are verbs which are known as non-action verbs. These verbs do not describe actions in progress, and so are not used in the present continuous tense. They are expressed in simple present tense as they refer to states or conditions rather than actions. Non-action verbs include the followings:
agree appear assume be believe belong consider consist contain cost depend deserve dislike doubt envy exist fear feel find fit forget hate have hear hold hope imagine include know like look love matter mean measure mind need notice owe own possess prefer realize recognize regret remember resemble see seem smell sound suppose taste think understand want weigh wish
Some of the above non-action verbs (in bold), however, may be used in the simple present tense and the present continuous tenses because they have different meanings.
Verbs not used in continuous tense
We use the simple present tense for some verbs which are not normally used in the present continuous tense.
- The parrot belongs to my grandmother. (NOT: The parrot is belonging to my grandmother.)
- She hates homework and housework. (NOT: She is hating homework and housework.)
- Sue knows the secret to making good bread. (NOT: Sue is knowing the secret to making good bread.)
- We understand how computers work. (NOT: We are understanding how computers work.)
- I always want to participate in a bullfight. (NOT: I'm always wanting to participate in a bullfight.)
Present continuous tense
- I am feeling a little better today. (experience emotion)
- We are having a lot of difficulties with our new computer system. (experience something)
- Mr. Oldegg is seeing a client at 2.30. (have a meeting)
- They are thinking about buying a flat in the city. (consider doing something)
Using present continuous for short answers:
- We do not use contractions for positive short answers.
- Yes, I am / Yes, we are. (NOT: Yes, I'm / Yes, we're)
- We use contractions for negative short answers.
- Is he your big brother? No, he isn't.
- We use pronouns in answers to replace nouns.
- Are those dogs yours? Yes, they are.
- We do not repeat the main verb in short answers.
- Are you coming in? Yes, we are / No, we are not.