The present continuous tense in the English language is constructed by combining a present form of the verb “to be” (I am, you/we/they are, he/she/it is) with the present participle (-ing) form of another verb. It is mainly used to describe actions that are presently happening, but is can also be used to describe actions in the future and in one specific situation, the past. Knowing when to use this tense as opposed to the simple present tense depends on context and what would be a better fit for sentence structure.
The present continuous tense is simple to construct and can be used to describe actions in the past and future as well as the present. The following situations will utilize the present continuous tense.
- to describe something that is happening right now, at the moment of speaking
Example: The children are sleeping right now.
- describing an action which is happening before and after a given time
At nine o’clock we are usually eating breakfast.
- for something we think is temporary
I’m working overseas for the next two weeks.
- when something is new and contrasts with a previous state
Nowadays people don’t write letters to each other, they are writing emails.
- to show something that is growing, changing or developing
The climate is changing rapidly.
- for something that happens again and again
Sam is a very happy person. He is always laughing. (Note* The word “always” is normally used in this situation.
- use the present continuous for something that has been arranged or planned
Jeff is attending a new school next term.
- when telling a story or summarizing the plot of a book, play, movie, etc. Sometimes referred to as the historical present. This situation is rarely used.
In the book, the thief is grabbing everything he can before he must leave the vault.
Positive, Negative and Question
This tense will fall into one of these three categories.
I am thinking. (positive)
Suzanne is not going to the baseball game tomorrow. (negative)
Why are they sitting all the way over there? (question)
Active vs. Passive
The active voice is when the subject is doing the action, while in the passive voice the target of the action falls into the subject position.
Jeff is writing the letter. (active)
The letter is being written by Jeff. (passive)
Adverbs may be placed right before the present participle (-ing word). Words such as still, always, only, never, ever, just, etc. can be used to emphasize the frequency or severity of an action.
Is Mark still watching TV?
Mark is always watching TV.
The following practice questions illustrate the present continuous tense in use. These different questions will help in formulating the present continuous tense as well as help recognize when to use it compared to the simple present tense.
Directions: Using the words in parentheses, complete the text below with the appropriate tenses,
1. Every Monday, Sally (drive) ____________ her kids to football practice.
2. Usually, I (work) ______________ as a secretary at ABT, but this summer I (study) ____________ French at a language school in Paris. That is why I am in Paris.
3. Shhhhh! Be quiet! John (sleep) ______________ .
4. Don’t forget to take your umbrella. It (rain) ________________.
5. I hate living in Seattle because it (rain, always) ________________.
6. I’m sorry I can’t hear what you (say) ________________ because everybody (talk) _____________ so loudly.
7. Justin (write, currently) _________________ a book about his adventures in Tibet. I hope he can find a good publisher when he is finished.
8. Jim: Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?
Denise: Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t. I (go) ____________________ to a movie tonight with some friends.
9. The business cards (be, normally ) ____________________ printed by a company in New York. Their prices (be) _______________ inexpensive, yet the quality of their work is quite good.
10. This delicious chocolate (be) ____________________ made by a small chocolatier in Zurich, Switzerland.
- is driving
- work; am studying
- is sleeping
- is raining
- is always raining
- are saying; is talking
- is currently writing
- am going
- are normally being; are
- is being
Directions: Make these words into a present continuous phrase, either positive, negative or a question.
- (we/go to the cinema later) ______________________________
- (they/work now) _______________________________
- (you/not/walk) ___________________________________
- (they/learn new things)? ______________________________________
- (when/he/start work)? _______________________________________
- (why/I/stay at home)? _______________________________________
- (it/get dark)? ___________________________________________
- (we/not/win) __________________________________________
- (they/not/bring a cake) ___________________________________________
- (the dog/not/play with a ball) ________________________________________
- (why/it/rain now)? __________________________________________
- (how/she/travel)? __________________________________________
- (where/you/work)? __________________________________________
- (what/we/watch)? __________________________________________
- (you/meet your friend at four) ________________________________________
- (I/take too much cake) _________________________________________
- (you/think)? ______________________________________________
- (we/study this evening) ___________________________________________
- (Lucy and Steve/play the piano) __________________________________________
- (Sarah/not/tell a story) _____________________________________________
- We are going to the cinema later.
- They are working now.
- You are not walking.
- Are they learning new things?
- When is he starting work?
- Why am I staying at home?
- Is it getting dark?
- We are not winning.
- They are not bringing a cake.
- The dog is not playing with a ball.
- Why is it raining now?
- How is she traveling?
- Where are you working?
- What are we watching?
- You are meeting your friend at four.
- Am I taking too much cake?
- Are you thinking?
- We are studying this evening.
- Lucy and Steve are playing the piano.
- Sarah is not telling a story.
Directions: Next up is an exercise to help you be able to tell when to use the present continuous and when to use the simple present. Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb in parentheses.
A Trekking Journal
November 12, 1997
Today (be) ________ the second day of my trek around Mount Annapurna. I am exhausted and my legs (shake) ________________; I just hope I am able to complete the trek. My feet (kill, really) _______________ me and my toes (bleed) ________________, but I (want, still) __________________ to continue.
Nepal is a fascinating country, but I have a great deal to learn. Everything (be) _______________ so different, and I (try) _________________ to adapt to the new way of life here. I (learn) _________________ a little bit of the language to make communication easier; unfortunately, I (learn, not) __________________ foreign languages quickly. Although I (understand, not) __________________ much yet, I believe that I (improve, gradually) ____________________.
I (travel, currently) _________________ with Liam, a student from Leeds University in England. He (be) _________________ a nice guy, but impatient. He (walk, always) ___________________ ahead of me and (complain) __________________ that I am too slow. I (do) __________________ my best to keep up with him, but he is younger and stronger than I am. Maybe, I am just feeling sorry for myself because I am getting old.
Right now, Liam (sit) _________________ with the owner of the inn. They (discuss) ________________ the differences between life in England and life in Nepal. I (know, not) __________________ the real name of the owner, but everybody (call, just) __________________ him Tam. Tam (speak) __________________ English very well and he (try) ___________________ to teach Liam some words in Nepali. Every time Tam (say) ____________________ a new word, Liam (try) _____________________ to repeat it. Unfortunately, Liam (seem, also) _____________________ to have difficulty learning foreign languages. I just hope we don’t get lost and have to ask for directions.
Paragraph 1: is; are shaking; are really killing; are bleeding; still want
Paragraph 2: is; am trying; am learning; do not learn; do not understand; am gradually improving
Paragraph 3: am currently traveling; is; is always walking; complains; am doing
Paragraph 4: is sitting; are discussing; don’t know; just calls; speaks; is trying; says; tries; also seems
Directions: The following words are jumbles up and don’t make any sense. Change the words and punctuation marks around so they make a sentence.
- the/ breakfast/ kitchen/ making/ ./ is/ in/ mum
- ./ again/ not/ working/ is/ conditioner/ air/ the
- the/ to/ the/ crowd/ smiling/ queen/ ./ waving/ is/ and
- moment/ doing/ are/ at/ you/ ?/ anything/ the
- ./ for/ are/ many/ looking/ days/ so/ people/ young/ these/ work
- homework/ of/ are/ boys/ games/ doing/ computer/ playing/ instead/ ./ their/ the
- annoying/ complaining/ everyone/ !/ and/ everything/ is/ he/ always/ about
- global/ temperatures/ burning/ we/ fuels/ because/ many/ too/ ./ are/ fossil/ rising/ are
- a/ watching/ ?/ you/ on/ right/ really/ the/ now/ are/ sitting/ beach/ sunset/ tropical
- and/ out/ cards/ less/ are/ ./ staying/ their/ more/ using/ people/ of/ more/ credit/ by/ debt
- Mum is making breakfast in the kitchen.
- The air conditioner is not working again.
- The queen is waving and smiling to the crowd.
- Are you doing anything at the moment?
- So many young people are looking for work these days.
- The boys are playing computer games instead of doing their homework.
- He is always complaining about everything and annoying everyone!
- Global temperatures are rising because we are burning too many fossil fuels.
- Are you really sitting on a tropical beach right now watching the sunset?
- More and more people are staying out of debt by using their credit cards less.
Directions: Make these words into a present continuous phrase, either positive, negative or a question.
- (they/not/read) _____________________________
- (I/cook tonight) ____________________________
- (he/sees the doctor tomorrow)? _____________________________
- (you/eat chocolate)? _______________________________
- (what/you/d0)? _______________________________
- (we/make a mistake)? ________________________________
- (you/come tomorrow)? _________________________________
- (it/snow) _________________________________
- (John/sleep at the moment) ________________________________
- (he/not/dance) ___________________________________
- (how/they/get here)? ___________________________________
- (when/it/start)? )____________________________________
- (I/not/speak Chinese at the moment) ________________________________
- (Jill/drink tea now)? ________________________________________
- (he/pay the bill at the moment)? __________________________________
- (I/stay with friends for the weekend) __________________________________
- (when/John/arrive)? ________________________________________
- (they/come to the party)? ________________________________________
- (we/not/study) _____________________________________________
- (I/be silly)? _____________________________________________
- They are not reading.
- I am cooking tonight.
- Is he seeing the doctor tomorrow?
- Are you eating chocolate?
- What are you doing?
- Are we making a mistake?
- You are coming tomorrow.
- It is snowing.
- John is sleeping at the moment.
- He is not dancing.
- How are they getting here?
- When is it starting?
- I am not speaking Chinese at the moment.
- Is Jill drinking tea now?
- Is he paying the bill at the moment?
- I am staying with a friend for the weekend.
- When is John arriving?
- Are they coming to the party?
- We are not studying.
- Am I being silly?
Directions: Using the picture to the the left, create a sentence using the words provided and make it in the form of the present continuous tense.
- They / wait / for the train
- We / walk / to school
- The train / come
- I / have / a good time
- I / study
- We / plan / our work
- It / rain / today
- She / wear / earrings
- They are waiting for the train.
- We are walking to school.
- The train is coming.
- I am having a good time.
- I am studying.
- We are planning our work.
- Is is raining today.
- She is wearing earrings.
- Andy sometimes _______________ comics. (to read)
- We never ______________________ TV in the morning. (to watch)
- Listen! Sandy ______________________ in the bathroom. (to sing)
- My sister usually _______________________ in the kitchen. (to help)
- My mother __________________________ breakfast now. (to make)
- They often _________________________ the bathroom. (to clean)
- Look! The boys ________________________ home. (to come)
- Every day his grandfather ________________________ for a walk. (to go)
- I ________________________ with my friend at the moment. (to chat)
- Cats ________________________ mice. (to eat)
- is singing
- is making
- are coming
- am chatting
These games bring the present continuous tense into the real world and allow the students to act out examples.
- Present Continuous Mimes Students mime a whole present continuous sentences until the other students say the whole correct sentence describing the action. It is important they don’t stop until people guess to give the idea of an action in progress.
- Present Continuous Noises In this variation on Mimes, students make noises with their mouth (e.g. “You are snoring”), impressions of other sounds with their mouths (”You are sawing”) or with objects in the classroom (”You are opening and closing the cassette recorder”).
- Present continuous Brainstorming Students compete to say or write as many things that are going on in the classroom, out the window or in a picture as possible.
- Present Continuous Drawing Race Students race to draw a picture of a present continuous sentence they hear or read, e.g. “Two men are dancing on a table”. Give points for the first one that matches the description and/ or the best picture.
- Present Continuous diaries Students try to find a gap in their diaries when they can meet. This can be done with real diaries, real diaries with imaginary arrangements added to fill it up and make the activity more challenging, or with roleplay diary pages. It can also be done as a mingling task, or as emailing or telephoning practice.
- Present Continuous diary differences In an easier but less realistic task than Present Continuous Diaries, students are given two slightly different diary or schedule pages and have to find the differences between them by asking and answering questions with the Present Continuous for future arrangements.