Learn How to Use the Present Continuous Tense

Present Continuous Structure

The present continuous tense, also known as the present progressive, is one of the most commonly used verb tenses in English. It is one that English learners frequently confuse with a similar tense, the present simple.

Present Continuous vs. Present Simple

The present continuous tense expresses something that is happening at the moment of speaking. It is frequently used in conjunction with time expressions such as "right now" or "today" to indicate that an action is occurring at that moment. For instance:

  • What are you doing at the moment?
  • She's reading in the garden now.
  • They're not standing in the rain. They're waiting in the garage. 

In contrast, everyday habits and routines are expressed using the present simple tense. It's common to use the present simple with adverbs of frequency such as "usually" or "sometimes." For example: 

  • I usually drive to work.
  • Alice doesn't have to get up early on Saturdays.
  • The boys play soccer on Friday evenings.

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, or state of being, such as "hope" or "want." 

  • Correct: I hope to see him today. 
  • IncorrectI am hoping to be seeing him today.
  • Correct: I want some ice cream right now.
  • Incorrect: I am wanting some ice cream right now.

Using the Present Continuous

In addition to expressing actions that are currently taking place, the present continuous can also express actions that are happening at or around the present moment in time. For example:

  • What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?
  • She isn't coming on Friday.
  • We're working on the Smith account at the moment.

This tense is also used for future plans and arrangements, especially in business.

  • Where are you staying in New York?
  • She isn't coming to the presentation on Friday.
  • I'm flying to Tokyo next week.

Sentence Structure

The present continuous tense can be used with positive, negative, and question sentences. For positive sentences, conjugate the helping verb "be" and add "ing" to the verb's end. For example:

  • I'm (I am) working today.
  • You're (You are) studying English at the moment.
  • He's (He is) 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.

For negative sentences, conjugate the helping verb "be," then add "not" plus "ing" to the verb's end.

  • 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.

For sentences that ask a question, conjugate "be," followed by subject and a verb ending in "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?

Present Continuous Passive

The present continuous can also be used in the passive voice. Remember that the passive voice conjugates the verb "to be." To construct, a passive sentence, use the passive subject plus the verb "be" plus "ing" and the past participle. For instance:

  • Cars are being made in this factory at the moment.
  • English is being taught by the teacher now.
  • Steak is being eaten by the people at table 12.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about the present continuous tense? Check out this teacher's guide for additional exercises and tips.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Learn How to Use the Present Continuous Tense." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/present-continuous-tense-1211150. Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 26). Learn How to Use the Present Continuous Tense. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/present-continuous-tense-1211150 Beare, Kenneth. "Learn How to Use the Present Continuous Tense." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/present-continuous-tense-1211150 (accessed March 28, 2023).

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