Common Present Simple Exceptions

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 Getty Images/​Klaus Vedfelt

Here is the most important English language rule to remember: Almost every rule is about 90% valid.

As confusing as that concept may be, it is certainly one of the most frustrating and truthful things about learning English. All that hard work to learn the correct grammar and then you read or hear something like this:

Peter does want to come this summer. It's just that he can't get off work.

As an excellent student, the first thought that comes to your mind is; wait a minute, that first sentence is a positive sentence. Does want can't be correct. It should be; Peter wants to come this summer. Of course, according to what you have learned you are correct. However, in certain instances, you can use both the auxiliary and principal verb together to form a positive sentence. We allow this exception to add extra emphasis. In other words:

Peter really wants to come this summer.

Exceptions to the (English) Rules

This feature will concern the various uses of and exceptions to the simple present. You all know that we usually use the simple present to express:

  1. Habitual actions
  2. Opinions and preferences
  3. Truths and facts

You also know that the standard construction is the following:

  1. Positive: Tom goes to the beach on Saturdays
  2. Negative: Mary doesn't like to eat fish on Fridays.
  3. Interrogative: Do they work in New York?

Here are some simple present exceptions/extra possibilities.

Exception 1

In order to add stress to a positive sentence, we can use the auxiliary verb "to do". We often use this exception when we are contradicting what someone else has said.


A: I don't think Peter wants to come with us this summer. He told me that he wouldn't be able to come, but I think he just doesn't want to come with us.

B: No, that's not true. Peter does want to come. It's just that he has too much work and can't get away from the office.

Exception 2

The simple present can also be used for the future. We use the simple present to express future, scheduled, events with verbs that express beginning and end, or departure and arrival.


A: When does the train for Paris leave?
B: It leaves at 7 tomorrow morning.

Exception 3

We use the simple present in time clauses when talking about future events. The when is expressed with the simple present. The result is expressed with a future form, usually the future with will. Time clauses are introduced by time signifiers such as when, as soon as, before, after, etc. The construction is the same as the first conditional except that we use a time signifier such as "as soon as" instead of "if".


A: When are you going to come and see the new house?
B: We will come as soon as we finish the Smith project.

Exception 4

We often use the simple present when we write timelines or biographical outlines -- even if all the events take place in the past.


1911 - Pete Wilson is born in Seattle, Washington.
1918 - Pete begins to play the saxophone.
1927 - Pete is discovered by Fat Man Wallace.
1928 - Fat Man Wallace arranges Pete's first concert with Big Fanny and the Boys in New York.
1936 - Pete goes to Paris.

Exception 5

In the question form, we usually use the auxiliary verb "to do". However, if the question word/words (usually who, which or what) express the subject and not the object of the sentence, the question is asked using positive sentence structure with a question mark. By the way, this is true of other tenses as well.


Regular: Who do you work with? (some people prefer "Whom do you work with?")
Exception: Who works with you?

Regular: Which toothpaste do you use?
Exception: Which brands of toothpaste use fluoride?

Exception 6

Time words cause a great deal of confusion to English learners. Here are some exceptions concerning time words.

Adverbs of frequency such as regularly, usually, normally, always, often, sometimes, never, etc. are generally put before the main verb. However, they can also be put at the beginning or end of a sentence.


Regular: John usually arrives home at 5 o'clock.
Also possible: Usually John arrives home at 5 o'clock OR John arrives home at 5 o'clock usually.

Note: Some teachers do not consider the other possibilities correct. However, if you listen carefully to native speakers, you will also hear these forms used.

Exception 7

The verb "to be" also causes special problems. If the adverb of frequency is placed in the middle of the sentence (as is usually the case) it must follow the verb "to be".


Regular: Fred often eats in a bar and grill.
To be: Fred is often late to work.

Exception 8

This is one of the strangest uses of adverbs of frequency. Negative adverbs of frequency used in the initial position of a sentence must be followed by question word order. These adverbs include rarely, never, and seldom.


Regular: Patricia rarely finishes work before 7 p.m.
Initial placement: Seldom does John play volleyball.

The above exceptions are certainly not the only exceptions, however, they are some of the most common ones that you will encounter in your English language-learning journey.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Common Present Simple Exceptions." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Common Present Simple Exceptions. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Common Present Simple Exceptions." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).