Friday, 8 April 2011


How do we make the Present Continuous Tense?

The structure of the present continuous tense is:

(+) S + to be (am/is/are) + V1-ing + O
(-) S + to be (am/is/are) + not + V1-ing + O
(?) To be (am/is/are) + S + V1-ing + O?

Look at these examples:

subject auxiliary verb main verb
+ I am speaking to you.
+ You are reading this.
- She is not staying in London.
- We are
playing football.
? Is he watching TV?
? Are they waiting for John?

How do we use the Present Continuous Tense?

We use the present continuous tense to talk about:
  • action happening now
  • action in the future

Present continuous tense for action happening now

a) for action happening exactly now
I am eating my lunch.
past present future

The action is happening now.

b) for action happening around now
The action may not be happening exactly now, but it is happening just before and just after now, and it is not permanent or habitual.
John is going out with Mary.
past present future

The action is happening around now.
Look at these examples:
  • Muriel is learning to drive.
  • I am living with my sister until I find an apartment.

Present continuous tense for the future

We can also use the present continuous tense to talk about the future - if we add a future word!! We must add (or understand from the context) a future word. "Future words" include, for example, tomorrow, next year, in June, at Christmas etc. We only use the present continuous tense to talk about the future when we have planned to do something before we speak. We have already made a decision and a plan before speaking.
I am taking my exam next month.
past present future

A firm plan or programme exists now. The action is in the future.
Look at these examples:
  • We're eating in a restaurant tonight. We've already booked the table..
  • They can play tennis with you tomorrow. They're not working.
  • When are you starting your new job?
In these examples, we have a firm plan or programme before speaking. The decision and plan were made before speaking.

How do we spell the Present Continuous Tense?

We make the present continuous tense by adding -ing to the base verb. Normally it's simple - we just add -ing. But sometimes we have to change the word a little. Perhaps we double the last letter, or we drop a letter. Here are the rules to help you know how to spell the present continuous tense.
Basic rule Just add -ing to the base verb:
work > working
play > playing
assist > assisting
see > seeing
be > being
Exception 1 If the base verb ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant, double the last letter:
s t o p
consonant stressed
(vowels = a, e, i, o, u)
stop > stopping
run > running
begin > beginning
Note that this exception does not apply when the last syllable of the base verb is not stressed:
open > opening
Exception 2 If the base verb ends in ie, change the ie to y:
lie > lying
die > dying
Exception 3 If the base verb ends in vowel + consonant + e, omit the e:
come > coming
mistake > mistaking


Verb Meanings with Continuous Tenses

There are some verbs that we do not normally use in the continuous tense. And there are other verbs that we use in the simple tense with one meaning and in the continuous tense with another meaning.
In this lesson we look at various uses of continuous tenses, followed by a quiz to check your understanding: 
Verbs not Used with Continuous Tenses
There are some verbs that we do not normally use with continuous tenses. We usually use the following verbs with simple tenses only (not continuous tenses):
  • hate, like, love, need, prefer, want, wish
  • believe, imagine, know, mean, realize, recognize, remember, suppose, understand
  • belong, concern, consist, contain, depend, involve, matter, need, owe, own, possess
  • appear, resemble, seem,
  • hear, see
Here are some examples:
I want a coffee. not I am wanting a coffee.
I don't believe you are right. not I am not believing you are right.
Does this pen belong to you? not Is this pen belonging to you?
It seemed wrong. not It was seeming wrong.
I don't hear anything. not I am not hearing anything.
Notice that we often use can + see/hear:
  • I can see someone in the distance.
    (not I am seeing someone in the distance.)
  • I can't hear you very well.
    (not I am not hearing you very well.)
Some verbs have two different meanings or senses. For one sense we must use a simple tense. For the other sense we can use a continuous or simple tense.
For example, the verb to think has two different senses:
  1. to believe, to have an opinion
    I think red is a sexy colour.
  2. to reflect, to use your brain to solve a problem
    I am thinking about my homework.
In sense 1 there is no real action, no activity. This sense is called "stative". In sense 2 there is a kind of action, a kind of activity. This sense is called "dynamic".
When we use the stative sense, we use a simple tense. When we use the dynamic sense, we can use a simple or continuous tense, depending on the situation.
Look at the examples in the table below:
Stative sense
(no real action)
Dynamic sense
(a kind of action)
Simple only Continuous Simple
I think she is beautiful. Be quiet. I'm thinking. I will think about this problem tomorrow.
I don't consider that he is the right man for the job. We are considering your job application and will give you our answer in a few days. We consider every job application very carefully.
This table measures 4 x 6 feet. She is measuring the room for a new carpet. A good carpenter measures his wood carefully.
Does the wine taste good? I was tasting the wine when I dropped the glass. I always taste wine before I drink it.
Mary has three children. Please phone later. We are having dinner now. We have dinner at 8pm every day.

Be and Continuous Tenses

The verb be can be an auxiliary verb (Marie is learning English) or a main verb (Marie is French). On this page we look at the verb be as a main verb.
Usually we use simple tenses with the verb be as a main verb. For example, we say:
  • London is the capital of the UK.
    (not London is being the capital of the UK.)
  • Is she beautiful?
    (not Is she being beautiful?)
  • Were you late?
    (not Were you being late?)
Sometimes, however, we can use the verb be with a continuous tense. This is when the real sense of the verb be is "act" or "behave". Also, of course, the action is temporary. Compare the examples in the table below:
Mary is a careful person. (Mary is always careful - it's her nature.) John is being careful. (John is acting carefully now, but maybe he is not always careful - we don't know.)
Is he always so stupid? (Is that his personality?) They were being really stupid. (They were behaving really stupidly at that moment.)
Andrew is not usually selfish. (It is not Andrew's character to be selfish.) Why is he being so selfish? (Why is he acting so selfishly at the moment?)
Notice that we also make a difference between "to be sick" and "to be being sick":
  • She is sick (= she is not well)
  • She is being sick (= she is vomiting)

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