Grammar – Present continuous or present simple

Explanation

Make sure you read the pages on present simple and present continuous before you read this page.

When present simple and when present continuous?

We use present simple to talk about:

  • habits
  • routines
  • facts
  • things that happen a lot

We use present continuous to talk about:

  • current actions
  • temporary actions

Present simple is for things that are always (or almost always) true.

Present continuous is for things that are true now, but not always.

Present simple

We use present simple to talk about facts, habits and routines. Things that are always (or almost always) true.

The sun is a star.

The sun is always a star. This is a fact.

I play soccer every week.

They wake up at 6.

These are habits or routines.

These words often show that a sentence is present simple:

Present continuous

We use present continuous to talk about things that are happening right now and are not always true.

John is playing football at the beach.

John doesn’t always play football at the beach, but he is doing it when the sentence is spoken.

These words often show that a sentence is present continuous:

Permanent or temporary?

Sometimes both present continuous and present simple are OK, but they mean different things.

Jenny works at a restaurant.

This sentence uses the present simple, which means it is a fact or something that is always true. This means that the speaker thinks that Jenny will work at the restaurant for a long time.

Jenny is working at a restaurant.

This sentence uses present continuous, which means it is something that is only currently true. This means the speakers thinks that Jenny will probably leave her job and will only work at the restaurant for a while.

The difference here is very small and not very important, so don’t worry about it too much.

State verbs

Some verbs cannot be made continuous.

I am hating cheese, at the moment.

I hate cheese, at the moment.

The first sentence is wrong and the second is correct, even if the sentence is true only at the moment.

This is because hate is a state verb and a stave verb is never continuous. 

State verbs are usually for feelings, senses and thinking.

Here are some common state verbs.

Some verbs are sometimes state verbs. The most common are think and have.

Have is a state verb when describing possession.

I have a red Ferrari.

Have is not a state verb when used in a phrase, like having a bath or having a party.

My brother is having a party.

Think is a state verb when describing your opinion.

I think this movie is terrible.

Think is not a state verb when describing your current thoughts or what you are considering.

A: Are you OK?

B: Yes, Im thinking about my girlfriend. I miss her.

Click here for more information about and examples of state verbs.

Quiz

Present simple or present continuous

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