Verbs in Simple Present Tense

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In English grammar, the simple present tense is a verb form that refers to an action or event that is ongoing or that regularly takes place in the present time. For example, in the sentence He cries easily, the verb "cries" is an ongoing action that he easily does. 

Except in the case of the word "be," the simple present is represented in English by either the base form of a verb, like in I sing, or the base form plus the third-person singular -s inflection, as in 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.

In English grammar, there are seven accepted functions of the usage of the simple present for "of" verbs: to express permanent states, general truths, habitual actions, live commentary, performative actions, past time or historic present, and future time.

Basic Meaning of the Simple Present

There are a variety of uses for the simple present in verb conjugation, but mostly it serves to keep the sentence structure itself grounded in the events happening presently, or as they relate to the here and now.

Michael Pearce's The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies expertly lays out the seven commonly accepted functions of the simple present form of verbs:

"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: pronounce you man and wife.
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,(Pearce 2006)."

In each of these cases, the simple present serves to keep the verb form in the present. Even when referring to past or future actions, the sentences are grounded in the present by their verbs, but the simple present form is not the only way to express the present.

Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive

In English grammar, the simple present does not function to describe ongoing events; for this, the present progressive form of a verb must be used. However, the simple present may be accepted colloquially to explain an ongoing action.

Laura A. Michaelis describes this relationship through the example of the verb "falls" in Aspectual Grammar and Past Time Reference, wherein she says, "Present-tense event predications, if intended as reports upon circumstances ongoing at present, must appear in the present progressive," (Michaelis 1998).

In the instance of He falls, then, the verb may be interpreted as habitual, but using He is falling instead would result in a sentence that is much more clear. Using the present progressive, therefore, is more correct than using the simple progressive when stating something as ongoing rather than habitual.

Sources

  • Michaelis, Laura A. Aspectual Grammar and Past Time Reference. Routledge, 1998.
  • Pearce, Michael. The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. 1st ed., Routledge, 2006.