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How do we use the Present Continuous Tense?

We use the present continuous tense to talk about:

  • action happening now
  • action in the future

Present Continuous tense for action happening now

a) for action happening exactly now

I am eating my lunch.
past present future

The action is happening now.  

Look at these examples. Right now you are looking at this screen and at the same time...

...the pages are turning. ...the candle is burning. ...the numbers are spinning.

b) for action happening around now

The action may not be happening exactly now, but it is happening just before and just after now, and it is not permanent or habitual.

John is going out with Mary.
past present future


  The action is happening around now.  

Look at these examples:

  • Muriel is learning to drive.
  • I am living with my sister until I find an apartment.

Present Continuous tense for the future

We can also use the present continuous tense to talk about the future - if we add a future word!! We must add (or understand from the context) a future word. "Future words" include, for example, tomorrow, next year, in June, at Christmas etc. We only use the present continuous tense to talk about the future when we have planned to do something before we speak. We have already made a decision and a plan before speaking.

I am taking my exam next month.
past present future
  A firm plan or programme exists now. The action is in the future.

Look at these examples:

  • We're eating in a restaurant tonight. We've already booked the table..
  • They can play tennis with you tomorrow. They're not working.
  • When are you starting your new job?

In these examples, we have a firm plan or programme before speaking. The decision and plan were made before speaking.

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