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Present Simple and Present Continuous

Present simple and present continuous are hard sometimes. When do you use one and when do you use the other? Think of two different types of time: temporary and permanent. Temporary means something that changes, permanent is the opposite. Actions that happen right now are temporary. The action changes or finishes in the future. Things that are, are permanent. For example, a person’s name. What about age? It changes, but we use the present simple. Age is a characteristic of a person. It is like physical appearance. We always use the present simple when we talk about characteristics.

I’m living in Istanbul or I live in Istanbul

“I’m living in Istanbul” means there’s a plan or goal to live somewhere else. For example, “I am living with my parents until I get married.” There’s a desire to live somewhere else in the future. In contrast, “I live in Istanbul” means I have no plan or desire to leave. It’s permanent. Same for saying “I work in finance.” There is no plan or desire to quit or switch to a different career. If you are a student, you can say, “I’m studying law.” You will graduate in the future. Your studies will eventually finish.

Forms of the Present Simple and Present Continuous

Here is a table that shows the forms of the present simple and present continuous (progressive):

©2003 Better Schrampfer Azar, Fundamentals of English Grammar, 3rd ed.

Study the above table and write some sentences and questions using this grammar. Look in your vocabulary journal and find some verbs. Use those verbs in your sentences. Say your sentences out load. Remember that native English speakers almost always use contractions. It is easier to speak that way. Pay attention to how the subject and verb agree. A subject with he, she, or it always takes a verb ending in -es or -s. Another mistake that you might make is to say, “I am work in finance.” Remember that be is the main verb in a sentence if you don’t have a verb. If you have a verb, then you don’t need be.

Of Habits and Routines

Habits generally don’t change, so they’re permanent. We always use the present simple to talk about habits and routines. For example, we say, “She brushes her teeth every day,” or “She always brushes her teeth.” Notice always. This is called an adverb of frequency, there are several. Sometimes they go before the verb, and sometimes are the end of the sentence. Study the following chart to see what some adverbs of frequency are and what they mean:

©2003 Better Schrampfer Azar, Fundamentals of English Grammar, 3rd ed.

There are positive and negative adverbs of frequency. Some of the positive adverbs of frequency can go at the beginning of a sentence, before the subject. They can also go at the end of the sentence, or be in their normal position before the main verb. None of the negative adverbs of frequency have this ability. Notice that if the main verb is be then the adverb of frequency goes after the verb.

In negative form, the adverb of frequency goes before doesn’t, but if you use always or ever, then it goes after doesn’t. We also can’t have double-negatives, as in doesn’t never. We must use one or the other, but not both. Finally, ever is used in questions such as “do you ever . . .?”, as well as negatives like “I don’t ever . . .”

On Possession, Thoughts and Feelings

The present simple and present continuous can be tricky. To help you decide which one is correct, ask yourself if what you are talking about is permanent or temporary. Facts are permanent, as well as ideas, beliefs and opinions. These don’t usually change or finish. One more thing to note is that stative verbs such as: have (possession), see, touch, feel, think, believe, know, like, love, hate, and so on, are almost never in the present continuous form. So, it is incorrect to say, “I’m loving her.” You can say, “I love her.” Feelings, thoughts and sensory input are states and not direct actions. They are generally what goes on in your head. We almost always use the present simple when we talk about these.

Sometimes this rule is broken, such as when we use the word think. When we use think in the present simple, we are talking about beliefs and ideas. When we say thinking, as in “what are you thinking?”, we are asking about a decision. Decisions are actions that finish, but ideas, beliefs and opinions are not. Same goes for feel. When use feel in the present simple, we are generally talking about what a person touches, such as in “It feels like …”, or “it feels cold.” However, we can say, “I’m feeling quite happy.” Here, we are expressing an emotion, and emotions change or finish. You can also say, “I feel happy.” Present simple is correct for expressing emotions, too. This is because an emotion is similar to a characteristic, and characteristics generally don’t change. But, emotions do change, so we can use both the present simple and present continuous to talk about emotions with feel. However, when we talk about touch, we generally use the present simple.

I’m Confused

The present simple and present continuous are complex, and I’ve just explained a lot. The key to deciding which one to use is to think about what you are talking about: is it temporary, or is it permanent? Some things are temporary in nature, such as making decisions, doing actions that will change or finish, or having a goal for something to finish. Things that are temporary generally have an end. In the present simple, we talk about things that are permanent, that generally don’t have an ending and won’t change. Habits, jobs, and characteristics are some examples of things that are permanent. So are beliefs, ideas and opinions as well as possession. There’s almost always no desire or means to change these things. You can practice by choosing verbs from your vocabulary journal and using it in a sentence in either the present simple or present continuous. If you are still confused, leave a post here and ask your question!