Habitual Present Verbs

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Conveyor belt repeatedly dropping tortellini.
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In English grammar, the habitual present is a verb in the present tense used to indicate an action that occurs regularly or repeatedly. It's also known as the present habitual. Typically, the habitual present employs dynamic verbs, not stative verbs, and it may be accompanied by an adverb of frequency such as always, often, or seldom.

Examples and Observations

The following are examples of the habitual present. (Note the italicized words.)

  • In the movie "50 First Dates," Lucy Whitmore wakes up every day with no memory of the previous day as a result of an automobile accident that's virtually eliminated her short-term memory.
"He runs every morning in New York. Twice around the reservoir. I know, because I go with him. I don't run, but I go."
(From "Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson" by Wil Haygood)
"His wife buys daily the food for that day in a permanent market of small stores and booths in the plaza in quantities so small as to astound and amaze an American housewife."
(From "Tonalá: Conservatism, Responsibility and Authority in a Mexican Town" by May N. Diaz)
"Joshua Stillman must be old but nobody ever thinks of what his age might be, he is so very much alive. He goes to the city every day and comes back early every afternoon. As he so seldom talks about himself nobody knows exactly what he does except that it has to do with books and small print."
(From "Green Valley" by Katharine Reynolds)

Adverbs of Frequency with the Habitual Present

"Present tense is also used with active verbs to describe something that happens routinely or habitually. Like the present tense that is used for general statements of fact, the habitual present tense does not limit routine or habitual activities to a particular time span. Instead, it suggests a timeless quality; that is, the habit or routine that happens regularly also did so in the past and will do so in the future:
  • Hurran uses his truck to carry food and water to his family's tent camps in the desert.
When the present tense is used to describe a habitual or routine activity, it may have an adverb of frequency with it.
  • Each Saturday, Hurran drives into town to get food and water supplies.
  • He washes and waxes his truck each week."

(From "Transitions: An Interactive Reading, Writing, and Grammar Text" by Linda Bates)

The Habitual Present and the Present Progressive

"The habitual present . . . is used with dynamic verbs to encode situations that occur habitually over time, even if the action is not being carried out at the moment of speaking. For instance, referring to the following examples, Tim may not actually be working, nor the leaves falling at the moment of speaking. Nevertheless, the recurrent situation holds as the normal course of things and is appropriately referred to by the present tense.
  • Tim works in an insurance company.
  • Many trees lose their leaves in autumn.
Again, it must be pointed out that the plain present tense used for habitual and other meanings contrasts with the present progressive, which encodes an actual occurrence of a dynamic action observed in the process of happening, as in
  • Tim is working late today.
  • The trees are already losing their leaves."

(From "English Grammar: A University Course" by Angela Dowling and Philip Locke)

Sources

  • Bates, Linda. "Transitions: An Interactive Reading, Writing, and Grammar Text, Second Edition." Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Downing, Angela; Locke, Philip. "English Grammar: A University Course, Second Edition." Routledge, 2006