Present Continuous Explained for Beginners

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English uses the present continuous tense to describe things that are happening now. We use the time expressions 'right now', 'now', 'today', 'this afternoon, morning, evening' and 'at the moment' to speak about actions that are happening at the moment.

What are you doing right now?
She's reading in the garden at the moment.
They're not standing in the rain right now.
Tim is playing tennis this afternoon.
My friends and I are watching a film at the moment.

It's important for English beginners to know that the present simple and the present continuous are different.

The present simple speaks about what happens every day, NOT what is happening at the moment. It's common to use the present simple with adverbs of frequency such as 'usually', 'sometimes', and 'often'.

I usually drive to work.
Alice doesn't have to get up early on Saturdays.
The boys play soccer on Friday evenings.
The teacher often shows us a video in class.
My car gets 23 miles to the gallon.

The present continuous expresses something that is happening now, at the moment:

I'm reading "The Surgeon's Mate" by Patrick O'Brian.
Whose account are you working on?
She's studying hard for her final exam.
What are you cooking for dinner? It smells good!
They're aren't working right now. They're watching TV.

The present continuous also expresses actions that are happening in a period around the present moment in time.

This is very common in business situations to discuss projects around the present time.

We're having leftovers this evening.
What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?
She isn't coming on Friday.
We're working on the Smith account at the moment.
She's learning the tenses this month.

The present continuous is also used for future plans and arrangements, especially in business.

We're having a meeting at six tomorrow.
Where are you staying in New York?
She isn't coming to the presentation on Friday.
I'm flying to Tokyo next week.
The CEO is giving a presentation next week.

Don't Use the Present Continuous for Stative Verbs

The present continuous is used only with action verbs. Actions verbs express things that we do. The present continuous is NOT used with stative verbs that express a feeling, belief, state, etc. such as the verbs 'hope', 'want', 'like', 'believe', etc.

I hope to see him today. NOT I am hoping to seeing him today.
I want some ice cream right-now. NOT I am wanting some ice-cream right now.

Common present continuous time expressions include:

at the moment, now, today, this week, this month, tomorrow, next week (for future arrangements ), currently

Present Continuous Structure

Here are sentences showing the structure of positive and negative sentences, as well as questions. One sentence is provided for each type of subject.

Positive sentences: Conjugate the helping verb "be" + verb -ing:

I'm (I am) working today.
You're (You are) studying English at the moment.
He's (He is) He's working on the report today.
She's (She is) planning a vacation in Hawaii.
It's (It is) raining right now.
We're (We are) playing golf this afternoon.
You're (You are) not paying attention, are you?
They're (They are) waiting for the train.

Negative sentences: Conjugate the helping verb "be" + not + verb -ing.

I'm not (I am not) thinking about my vacation right now.
You aren't (You are not) sleeping at the moment.
He isn't (He is not) watching the TV.
She isn't (She is not) doing her homework today.
It isn't (It is not) snowing today.
We aren't (We are not) staying in New York.
You aren't (You are not) playing chess at the moment.
They aren't (They are not) working this week.

Questions: Wh? + 'be' + subject + verb -ing:

What am I thinking?
What are you doing?
Where is he sitting?
When is she coming?
How is it doing?
When are we leaving?
What are you eating for lunch?
What are they doing this afternoon?

Teachers can use this guide to teaching the present continuous for further ideas and exercises.