The present tense in English is a verb tense that describes a current activity. It can also be used to describe future activities. Many English test-takers usually fail to tell between the different English tenses. This is the reason why today, we will focus on the present tense.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What tenses are included in the Present Tense?
  • The structure of the Present Tense;
  • The different ways to use the present Tense;
  • When should you use simple present Tenses and Present Continuous?
  • The equivalent to the Subjunctive.

Read on and boost your English language knowledge!

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What Tenses Are Included In Present Tense?

In English, there are three main verb tenses: the Past, the Present, and the Future tense. Each one of them has various uses and forms, but let’s just focus on the Present tense today.

The present tense has four different aspects:

  • Present Simple: It is used to describe habits/facts, scheduled future events, and tell stories for better engagement.
  • Present Continuous: It is used for ongoing action in the present.
  • Present Perfect: It is used to express actions that started in the past and are still continuing into the present.
  • Present Perfect Continuous: It is used for actions that started in the past and continuing into the present, or actions that started in the past and finished very recently.

Here is an example for each one:

Present Simple:

  1. I love pizza.
  2. The plane lands at noon.
  3. She never eats fish.

Present Continuous:

  1. I am playing basketball.
  2. David is driving right now.

Present Perfect:

  1. I have painted three masterpieces.
  2. My son has met interesting people.

Present Perfect Continuous:

  1. I have been waiting to leave.
  2. Your uncle has been talking about you.

girl reading in a chair

Structure for Present Simple and Present Continuous

It is not too hard to tell the difference between the structure of present simple and present continuous. Here is why:

The present simple = The base form (of the verb), or the base from + S ( he/she/it).

The present continuous = To be + the base form + ing.

These following examples will help you have a clearer idea:

 PRESENT SIMPLEPRESENT CONTINUOUS
AffirmativeI, you, we, they work
He/she/it works
I am working
You, we, they are working
He/she/it is working
NegativeI, you, we, they do not (don’t) work
He/she/it does not (doesn’t) work
I’m not working
You, we, they are not (aren’t) working
He/she/it is not (isn’t) working
InterrogativeDo you (I, we, they) work?
Does he/she/it work?
Am I working?
Are you (we, they) working?
Is he/she/it working?

Basic Rules To Learn When Using The Present Tense

🡲 The third person singular in the Present Simple ends with an ‘-s’, whereas the first and second persons (both singular and plural) and the third person plural do not.

🡲 For certain verbs ‘-es’ is added (Ex. watch – watches, wash – washes, dress – dresses, fix – fixes).

🡲 The auxiliary for the present simple is ‘do’ for all persons except third person singular which uses ‘does’.

🡲 The auxiliary ‘do’ or ‘does’ is generally used only in the negative or interrogative forms, but may sometimes be used in the affirmative to emphasize a point. (Ex. I do agree with you, even if you don’t believe me!)

🡲 The Present Continuous employs the verb ‘to be’ conjugated appropriately according to the person and is then followed by a principal verb in the continuous form (-ing).

🡲 When the –ing suffix is added, some verbs have the final consonant doubled (stop – stopping, begin – beginning).

What Are the Different Ways To Use the Present Tense

Let’s go over all the different situations in which you can use the Present Tense.

Present Simple

The following show how the present simple tense is generally used and after you will see some examples of things to look out for concerning usage.

🡲 Habits or repeat action: He often attends sales conferences.

🡲 General truths: There’s a saying that money doesn’t grow on trees.

🡲 Something scheduled: My train departs from Grand Central Station at 5.30pm.

🡲 Future event after temporal conjunctions in temporal propositions : She checks her emails as soon as she arrives at work.

Things to look out for while using present simple tense

Use the present simple after conjunctions such as ‘when’, ‘as soon as’, ‘before’, ‘after’, etc.: After she meets the CEO, she’ll be done with the interviewing process.

They will need to check into the hotel before they come to the conference.

Check for keywords that are associated with the present simple, such as:

Always, often, sometimes, seldom (rarely), never, every day / week / year…

How Is The Present Continuous Used In Sentences

The following show the common uses of the present continuous along with some areas to look out for.

🡲 An action currently in progress or present progressive: The Human Resources Director is interviewing a candidate.

🡲 A temporary situation: We are installing a new invoicing application this week, so you can expect billing delays.

🡲 A future event which is certain or already planned: My favorite band is playing at the Zenith next October – I can’t wait!

When Should You Use Present Simple or Present Continuous?

Distinguishing between temporary and permanent situations:

In the company where Mary works, employees all speak at least 3 languages.

They are not necessarily speaking at the moment, but have the ability to speak different languages. This is a permanent condition, therefore the Present Simple is required.

She is speaking in Spanish, so she must be on the phone with our Argentinean supplier.

She is on the phone which implies ‘at this moment’, even if those words are not used in the sentence. Therefore it is a temporary situation and the Present Continuous is required.

Verbs that are generally not used in the continuous tense

There are some verbs that are not often used with continuous present tense: they are called Non-Continuous Verbs. They mostly discuss a ‘state’ instead of an ‘action’, which is why they can’t express the continuous aspect.

Here is a list of the most common non-continuous verbs:

Expression/stateVerbsExamples
FeelingHate, love, like, prefer, wish, want.Respecting someone doesn’t mean that you like the person, necessarily.
SensesFeel, appear, see, hear, smell, seem, sound, taste.I don’t taste anything bad.
CommunicationDeny, agree, disagree, promise, mean, satisfy, surprise.I don’t agree with your decision.
ThinkingImagine, believe, know, realize, recognize, understand, remember.I do believe they are telling the truth.
OthersBe, belong, depend, concern, matter, involve, owe, own, possess, need.Does this bracelet belong to you?

Verbs which can be used in both the Present Simple and Present Continuous

The present simple and present continuous are to be used differently, but that doesn’t stop many non-continuous verbs to be used in both tenses without being incorrect.

Take a look at the following examples:

VerbsPresent SimplePresent Continuous
ThinkI think we should start the meetingI am thinking about what you told me
HaveHe has a new sports carHe’s having trouble with his new car
TasteThis meat tastes deliciousWe’re tasting a young wine from Australia
FeelIt feels quite chilly for a summer dayShe’s feeling much better today
SeeI see your pointThey’re seeing James in a few minutes
AppearIt appears clear to meShe’s appearing on stage in a new show
WeighThe machine weighs 200 kgHe’s weighing the pros and the cons
BeHe is such a silly boyHe is being silly today for some reason

Key words associated with the Present Continuous

There are a few words or phrases that often go hand in hand with the present continuous, and they are called Signal Words. With them, you can have a clue about which tense to use, and the majority of them are time words.

Here are some of the signal words and their examples:

Signal WordsExamples
TodayToday, we are going to the museum.
NowNow, I am doing home chores.
At the momentIt is raining at the moment.
CurrentlyI am currently looking for a roommate.
PresentlyShe is presently preparing for a project.
This week/month/ yearSam is traveling to Greece this week.

Is There An Equivalent to the Subjunctive?

Few of you know or are aware of the fact there is an equivalent to the subjunctive in English. It describes an unreal situation in the present.

What is the Structure?

It is simply the verbal basis meaning the infinitive without to. It is easily noticed in the 3rd person singular in the present as a subjunctive (verbal basis) doesn’t take the –s : « It is vital he sleep at least 5 hours a night ».

Rules to follow while using equivalent of the subjunctive

The equivalent of the subjunctive mode is used after:

  • Regular verbs of recommendation or orders such as: request, suggest, propose, ask, recommend, advise, demand, insist, accept that
  • expressions used in guidelines, instructions and orders : it is essential that, it is important that, it is vital that, it is necessary that, it is imperative that, it is wise that
  • In idioms such as: « God bless you », « come what may », « so be it. », « Hallowed be thy name! », « be it as it may », if this be possible.

Instead of a subjunctive, modals can be used such as:

  • Should: Jennifer advised that we should work hard to improve.
  • May, might: Wherever he may go, I’ll find him. / She left the keys on the coffee table so that he might feel free to use the car.
  • Will and would: They doubt she will come back. / She feared he would come.

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