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Present Continuous

Present Continuous tense

(also called Present Progressive)

We often use the Present Continuous tense in English. It is very different from the Present Simple tense, both in structure and in use.

How do we make the Present Continuous tense?

The structure of the Present Continuous tense is:

subject + auxiliary be + main verb
conjugated in Present Simple  
am, are, is present participle (-ing)

The auxiliary verb (be) is conjugated in the Present Simple: am, are, is

The main verb is invariable in present participle form: -ing

For negative sentences we insert not between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the auxiliary verb.

Look at these example sentences with the Present Continuous tense:

  subject auxiliary verb   main verb  
+ I am   speaking to you.
+ You are   reading this.
- She is not staying in London.
- We are not playing football.
? Is he   watching TV?
? Are they   waiting for John?

How do we use the Present Continuous tense?

We use the Present Continuous to talk about:

Present Continuous 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 images. 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 looking for a new job.
past present future
  The action is happening "around" now.  

Look at these examples:

Present Continuous 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:

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

How do we spell the Present Continuous tense?

We make the Present Continuous tense by adding -ing to the base verb. Normally it's simple: we just add -ing. But sometimes we have to change the word a little. Perhaps we double the last letter, or we drop a letter. Here are the rules to help you know how to spell the Present Continuous tense.

Basic rule Just add -ing to the base verb:
work working
play playing
assist assisting
see seeing
be being
Exception If the base verb ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant, double the last letter:
s t o p
  consonant stressed
vowels = a, e, i, o, u
stop stopping
run running
begin beginning
Note that this exception does not apply when the last syllable of the base verb is not stressed:
open opening
Exception If the base verb ends in ie, change the ie to y:
lie lying
die dying
Exception If the base verb ends in vowel + consonant + e, omit the e:
come coming
mistake mistaking
Note that continuous tenses are also called progressive tenses. So the Present Continuous tense is sometimes called the Present Progressive tense.

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