Introduction to English Grammar – Present Tense

There are two present tenses in English (Present Simple and Present Continuous – also known as Present Progressive) with different structures and uses. There is also an equivalent to the subjunctive in English on which test takers usually make mistakes. The Exam often used TOEIC grammar questions in part 5 where you will have to choose the correct tense to show that you can understand these differences. Let’s take a look at the different structures.

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Structure for Present Simple and Present Continuous

Affirmative I, you, we, they work

He/she/it works

I am working

You, we, they are working

He/she/it is working

Negative I, 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

Interrogative Do you (I, we, they) work?

Does he/she/it work?

Am I working?

Are you (we, they) working?

Is he/she/it working?

a) Things to look out for on the TOEIC Grammar

> 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 principle verb in the continuous form (-ing).

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

Uses of the present tenses

a) 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.

b) Things to look out for on the TOEIC Grammar

> 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 key words that are associated with the present simple, such as:

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

c) Present Continuous

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

> an action currently in progress: 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!

d) Things to look out for on the TOEIC Grammar

> 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.)

e) Verbs that are generally not used in the continuous tense:

  • know, believe, need, understand, realize, prefer, remember, forget, recognize, mean, want, love, like, dislike, hate, appreciate, mind, possess, own, belong, seem, cost, owe, exist, consist of, include, contain
  • Respecting someone doesn’t mean that you like the person, necessarily.

f) Verbs which can be used in both the Present Simple and Present Continuous but have different meanings:

  • Think: I think we should start the meeting.     I am thinking about what you told me.
  • Have: He has a new sports car.                     He’s having trouble with his new car.
  • Taste: This meat tastes delicious.                  We’re tasting a young wine from Australia.
  • Feel: It feels quite chilly for a summer day.   She’s feeling much better today.
  • See: I see your point.                                     They’re seeing James in a few minutes.
  • Appear: It appears clear to me.                      She’s appearing on stage in a new show.
  • Weigh: The machine weighs 200 kg.             He’s weighing the pros and the cons.
  • Be: He is such a silly boy.                              He is being silly today for some reason.

g) Heck for key words that are associated with the Present Continuous:

  • Today, now, at the moment, currently, presently, this week / month / year

II 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.

  1. Structure

It is simply the verbal basis meaning the infinitive without to. It is more easily noticed in the 3rd person of the 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 ».

  1. A few elements you have to look out for on the TOEIC:

The equivalent of the subjunctive mode is used after:

  • verbes 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. 

Mastering present tenses can be useful notably in parts 5 and 6 of the TOEIC but also in the Speaking and Writing of TOEFL IBT and IELTS, part 1 sentence completion and 2 error identification du writing of TOEFL IBT, MCQ exercises, open close exercises of the IELTS and in fill-in the blank sentences and exercises as well as open close texts of the reading section of the BULATS.

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