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Present Tense vs. Present Continuous Tense

Many English learners have a hard time knowing when to use the present tense and when to use the present continuous tense. In this lesson, we will break down how and when to use each of these tenses.

1. We use the present tense to talk about things that are generally true or that happen repeatedly.

So, we use the present tense to talk about facts and general truths.
  • The sun is hot.
  • He speaks English.
  • Over 300 million people live in America.
  • Is Belgium in Europe?
  • Do you work here?
  • What does this machine do?
Or, we use the present tense to talk about habits, routines, or things that happen repeatedly or never.
  • I go to the gym every Saturday.
  • She works every day.
  • I visit my family once a month.
  • He never smokes.
  • She always eats dinner along.
  • Sometimes, we go hiking on the weekend.
  • Do you usually work on Saturday?
  • What do you usually do on the weekend?
2. We do not use the present tense to talk about right now. We use the present continuous to talk about what we are doing or what is happening at this exact moment.

Remember that we form the present continuous using "be verb + present participle". The present participle is "verb + ing".
  • I am writing an English lesson.
  • You are reading an English lesson.
  • She is walking.
  • He is reading.
  • Is Mary sleeping?
  • What are you doing?
3. We usually only use action verbs with the present continuous. It is more common to use the present tense with adjectives, nouns, and prepositional phrases.
  • He is an engineer.
  • He is being an engineer.

  • Mary is sick.
  • Mary is being sick.

  • Judy is at the store.
  • Judy is being at the store.
However, this is not always true. Sometimes, we can use the present continuous with adjectives to show that somebody has been acting a certain way that is unusual for a period of time. However, we do not use this a lot.
  • He is being crazy these days.
  • She is being nice lately.
3. We can use both the present tense and the present continuous for the verbs "live" and "work". However, it is more common to use the present tense.
  • I live in Seoul.
  • I am living in Seoul.

  • She works at that company.
  • She is working at that company.

  • Where does she work?
  • Where is she working?
Usually, we use the present tense for permanent situations and we use the present continuous for temporary situations.
  • I live in America.
  • I am living in Germany for a couple months.

  • I work here.
  • I am working here until next year.
Again, it is okay to use either one, but this is how they are most commonly used.

4. There is a special expression that we should know. We can use this sentence pattern to show a bad habit.

Subject + be verb + always + present participle...
  • He is always losing his keys.
  • She is always watching TV.
  • They are always getting into trouble.
5. There are some verbs that we cannot use in the present continuous form. Actually, we cannot use them with any continuous verb tense. There might be some exceptions, but here are the verbs that we usually do not use in the present continuous verb tense.

likelovehatewant
needknowrealizesuppose
containseemconsistbelieve
rememberunderstandbelongfit
  • I am needing some money.
  • I need some money.

  • She is wanting a puppy.
  • She wants a puppy.

  • She is liking you.
  • She likes you.

  • I am understanding.
  • I am starting to understand.

  • It is containing 5 different kinds of chocolate.
  • It contains 5 different kinds of chocolate.
Summary

Use the present continuous to talk about what is happening right now.
  • I am watching TV now.
  • She is talking on the phone at the moment.
Use the present tense to talk about things that are generally or usually true and things that happen regularly.
  • I usually work late on Monday.
  • She lives here.
  • He always works hard.
We usually do not use the present continuous with adjectives, nouns, or prepositional phrases.
  • He is a doctor.
  • He is being a doctor.

  • She is tired.
  • She is being tired.

  • I am at the library.
  • I am being at the library.
It is important to know the difference between the present tense and the present continuous verb tenses. These are both very common verb tenses in English, and you must know them if you want to learn English and speak English well.

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