simple present tense (verbs)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

simple present tense
Use the simple present tense to express general statements of fact or habitual activities or events. Despite its name, the simple present doesn't necessarily mean that the action is taking place now. (hh5800/Getty Images)

Definition

In English grammar, the simple present tense is a form of the verb that refers to an action or event that is ongoing or that regularly takes place in present time (for example, "He cries easily"). (For other possible meanings of the simple present, see the observations below by Ron Cowan and Michael Pearce.)

Except in the case of be, the simple present is represented in English by either the base form of the verb (e.g., "I/You/We/They sing") or the base form plus the third-person singular -s inflection ("She sings").

A verb in the simple present tense can appear alone as the main verb in a sentence. This finite verb form is called "simple" because it doesn't involve aspect.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "The wheels on the bus go round and round,
    round and round, round and round.
    The wheels on the bus go round and round,
    all through the town!"
    (Verna Hills, "The Wheels on the Bus," 1939)

     
  • "I push the light switch button and—click—the light goes on.
    I push the lawn mower button and—voom—it mows the lawn.
    I push the root beer button and—whoosh—it fills my cup.
    I push the glove compartment button and—clack—it opens up.
    I push the TV button and—zap—there's Wyatt Earp.
    I push my belly button . . .
    BURP!"
    (Shel Silverstein, "Push Button." The Light in the Attic. HarperCollins, 1981)
     
  • "Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors are mysterious apparitions, who come, go, and do strange unfathomable things in and around the child, the region's only enfranchised citizen."
    (Maya Angelou, "Home." Letter to My Daughter. Random House, 2008)
     
  • "A jerk . . . is a man (or woman) who is utterly unable to see himself as he appears to others. He has no grace, he is tactless without meaning to be, he is a bore even to his best friends, he is an egotist without charm. All of us are egotists to some extent, but most of us—unlike the jerk—are perfectly and horribly aware of it when we make asses of ourselves. The jerk never knows."
    (Sidney J. Harris, "A Jerk." Last Things First, 1961)
     
  • Basic Meanings of the Simple Present
    "The simple present tense expresses states, as exemplified in (8), and habitual action, as in (9). Notice that the verbs in (8) are stative verbs. The habitual action meaning of the simple present . . . generally requires the presence of time expressions (e.g., every Friday, regularly, always + time), as illustrated in (9).
    states
    (8a) The lake looks like it's frozen.
    (8b) He seems to be confused.
    (8c) She owns three rare Chinese vases.

    habitual actions
    (9a) He eats steak and kidney pie every Sunday.
    (9b) They always go to the mosque on Friday.
    In a third meaning usually included in textbooks, the simple present expresses what are often referred to as general statements of fact or scientific truths. This meaning . . . is actually a variation of the first meaning mentioned, since these statements of fact or scientific truths are usually expressed with stative verbs such as be, exist, equal, thrive, and so on, or with ergative verbs that carry an inherent change of state meaning such as boil, cool, dissolve, expand, freeze, grow, harden, rise, and so on. . .

    "Another meaning of the simple present tense that is also common . . . is that of future tense. In this meaning, . . . the simple present tense is accompanied by time expressions such as eight o'clock, at dawn, or tomorrow."
    (Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2008)
     
  • Seven Main Meanings of the Simple Present Tense
    "Present tense (or 'simple' present tense) forms are used to express seven main meanings:
    1) Permanent state: Jupiter is a very massive planet.
    2) General truth: The earth is round.
    3) Habitual action: Her daughter works in Rome.
    4) 'Live' commentary: In each case I add the two numbers: three plus three gives six . . ..
    5) Performative: I pronounce you man and wife (see speech-act theory).
    6) Past time (see historic present): He moves to the window alongside, and sees her inside the office moving away from the door. He shoots twice through the window and kills her.
    7) Future time: My flight leaves at four thirty this afternoon."
    (Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)
     
  • Simple Present vs. Present Progressive
    "English differs from languages like French in opposing the simple present to a progressive present. In English, present-tense event predications, if intended as reports upon circumstances ongoing at present, must appear in the present progressive. Thus, a sentence like He falls, while having the potential for a habitual interpretation, is anomalous if interpreted as a report about the present state of things: the moment of speech cannot accommodate the extended temporal profile of the event. The present-progressive sentence He is falling is, however, acceptable."
    (Laura A. Michaelis, Aspectual Grammar and Past Time Reference. Routledge, 1998)