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Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive

July 18, 2013

Updated February 2017

There are two present verb tenses in English: the simple present and the present progressive (also known as the present continuous). Students sometimes have trouble figuring out when to use each tense, but I’ve found that using a chart such as the one below is a great way to clearly explain the differences between the two tenses.

Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive Chart

Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive – Grammar & Usage Resources

Simple Present

Form

Base V (+ -s with third person singular subject)

The simple present looks like the base form of the verb. With a third person singular subject, add the ending -s. Remind students that subjects that need -s include he, she, it, singular count nouns, or non‑count nouns.

Time Markers

A. Repeated Actions

  • every (every day, every week, every month, every year, etc.)
  • once, twice, three times, etc. (once a week, twice a month, three times a year, etc.)
  • adverbs of frequency (always, almost always, often, usually, sometimes, almost never, never, etc.)

B. Non-Action Verbs

  • be
  • have
  • feelings (love, like, hate, etc.)
  • thinking verbs (think, know, believe, etc.)
  • five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell)

Note: There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, some of the verbs above use the present progressive when taking on an “action” role, such as I’m thinking of last night (“remembering”) vs. I think that global warming is a serious problem (“opinion”). Point this out to students, but remind them that these verbs don’t usually use the -ing form.

C. True Facts

  • scientific facts
  • historical facts
  • unchanging truths
  • etc.

D. Schedules

  • TV schedules
  • transportation timetables
  • etc.

Examples

  • I talk to my best friend every day. (repeated action)
  • She never eats meat. (repeated action with adverb of frequency)
  • He thinks that you shouldn’t go out tonight. (non-action verb)
  • Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. (true fact)
  • Our favourite show starts at 8:00 pm. (schedule)

Present Progressive

Form

Be + -ing V

The present progressive is formed by taking the Be verb and an action verb + -ing. Remind students that forms of the Be verb include am, are, is, and are, depending on the subject.

Time Markers

  • now
  • right now
  • currently
  • nowadays
  • these days
  • at the moment
  • at this time
  • presently

Examples

  • I am studying English nowadays.
  • At the moment, Jim is taking a nap.
  • He is shopping right now, so he can’t meet up with us.

Non-Action Verbs

Even with the time markers above, non-action verbs almost never take -ing. For example:

  • She is happy now.
  • She is being happy now.
  • My friend has a boyfriend at the moment.
  • My friend is having a boyfriend at the moment.

Conclusion

Time Markers provide the best clues for students to figure out what verb tense to use. I always suggest that students memorize the time markers that correspond to certain verb tenses.

Practice

Try our Grammar Practice Worksheets, Grammar Stories, and Basic Grammar Sentences sections for many lessons on the simple present and the present progressive. The Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive lesson has exercises that directly contrast the two verb tenses. We’ve also got a new Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive resource chart and worksheet.

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Comments (23)

Sandee Waiwadhana(Guest)

These are very interesting!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thank you, Sandee!

Chomporu (Guest)

Thank you so much !!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome! Thanks for commenting. :)

Kathleen W.(Teacher)

Is there a way to save blog posts to a folder?

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi, Kathleen! This is not currently an option, but I shared your suggestion with our developers and they loved it. We're redesigning our blog, and will try to add this feature in the next update. Thanks for the suggestion!

Cheers,
Tara

Dave U.(Teacher)

My (adult, less formally-educated, Spanish-speaking) students often get confused about the continuous vs. simple present forms (because the forms are used interchangeably in Spanish) – even when I've used explanations about time markers that help identify and distinguish the situations in English. A recent teaching method I've begun to use is to say that we use the continuous form for an observation. By using the term 'observation,' my students focus on the current situation, and on an action that is happening. I've seen a marked improvement in recognizing the difference between the two kinds of situations.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Excellent tip, Dave! Thanks so much for sharing it here.

Opal Edwards-Smith(Guest)

Love the idea of having the option to save a blog post in the future.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

We hope to have this feature available soon! Thanks for your input.

Maria christina(Guest)

Very interesting ! and its easy to learn for my students .Thank you so much .

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Maria!

Sara (Guest)

Dave....would you please explain more about the term 'observation' to see the difference between simple present and present continuous. Thanks.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sara, I let Dave know you posted a comment addressed to him. FYI if you comment to someone by hitting 'reply' below their comment, they will be notified. Otherwise, they might not see it. :)

Azzeddine Tamlakoutan(Guest)

really great! thanks

Reply to Comment

Farah Malekzadeh(Guest)

Excellent and thorough explanations. They were very useful. Thank you.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm happy to hear this post was useful for you, Farah! Thanks for the kind words.

Maria M.(Teacher)

Thank you ESL Library team. You make our ( ESL teachers') lives much easier. I am personally so thankful for this teaching platform and have to admit you are getting better every day.
However, if we had an opportunity to use ESL Library for online - synchronous classes as well, would be priceless.
You can take this as food for your thoughts and maybe make us even happier soon.
With lots of respect for your help,
Maria

Reply to Comment

Tammy Wik(ESL Library Staff)

Hi Maria,

Thank you for such sweet words!

And I have good news for you! You can indeed use ESL Library for online, synchronous classes as well. You'll need to have Zoom or Google Meet (or some other live synchronous platform running), but you can click "Share Screen" within that synchronous platform and use our digital "Task Player" feature to do digital tasks live with your students. (This can be done on either the Standard or the Plus Plans!)

We have lots of teachers who use this feature every day -- definitely give it a try if you haven't yet! I'll also recommend using our digital Flashcard Player to introduce your students to new vocab or review vocabulary.

You can see our Teacher Training Module with short tutorial videos here: https://help.esllibrary.com/article/212-how-to-use-esl-library-teacher-training-module

P.S. Next year, we're also going to start adding more fun, interactive features to the site, which will also benefit your live lessons. If you have any specific items on your "online synchronous class" wish list, let us know, and they might make it onto our roadmap :)

Happy teaching and thanks again for your support!

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