Present Continuous Tense | Examples & Exercises

The present continuous (also called the present progressive) is a verb tense used to refer to a temporary action that is currently taking place. It can also describe future plans (e.g., “I am throwing a party next week”).

The present continuous is formed by combining a form of the auxiliary verb “be” with the present participle (“-ing” form) of another verb (e.g., “I am swimming”).

present continuous forms table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to use the present continuous

The present continuous uses different forms of the verb “be” depending on the person of the subject. The first person uses “am” the third person singular uses “is”, and all other persons use “are”. The verb is often contracted with the subject (e.g., “I’m”, “she’s”, “we’re”). The form of the other verb doesn’t change; it’s always the present participle (“-ing” form).

The present continuous describes an action or process that is ongoing (continuous). It is most commonly used to talk about actions that are currently happening and about future plans and intentions.

Examples: How to use the present continuous
Please keep the noise down. The baby is sleeping.

I am flying to Germany in three weeks.

We are investigating a crime.

When are you graduating from university?

There are also some other contexts where you may encounter the present continuous. It can be used to:

  • Describe some new trend or development that differs from a past state
  • Describe a process of change over time
  • Emphasise (in combination with the adverb “always”) that something happens over and over again
Examples: How to use the present continuous
Fewer people are eating meat nowadays.

My ankle is slowly recovering from a sprain.

Why are you always comparing yourself to others?

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When you shouldn’t use the present continuous

You may have noticed that all the verbs used in the present continuous tense in the examples above describe an action or process – these are called dynamic verbs. The present continuous tense normally requires a dynamic verb.

Verbs that instead describe a state of being such as emotion, belief, perception, or possession are called stative verbs. Some examples include “prefer”, “appear”, “exist”, and “own”. Stative verbs should not be used in the present continuous tense.

  • I am believing that love at first sight is existing.
  • I believe that love at first sight exists.
  • I am owning many books.
  • I own many books.

Note that some verbs can be either stative or dynamic, depending on the specific sense in which they are used.

For example, the verb “think” may describe a fixed opinion or belief (in which case it’s stative) or a process of thought or consideration (in which case it’s dynamic).

  • I am thinking that Rajit will arrive tomorrow.
  • I think that Rajit will arrive tomorrow.
  • I think about going for a bike ride at the weekend.
  • I am thinking about going for a bike ride at the weekend.

Present continuous vs. present simple

If you’re unsure whether to use the present continuous (e.g., “is running”) or the present simple (e.g., “runs”) in a sentence, apply the following rules:

  • To describe something that’s in the process of happening right now, use the present continuous.
  • To describe a habit, general truth, or fixed situation or state, use the present simple.
    Examples: Present continuous vs. present simple
    I’m working at the moment; can I call you back later?

    I am good at math.

    Toby is looking at the clouds.

    Regular exercise contributes to bodily and mental health, so I work out regularly.

    When describing events in the near future, the two tenses can often be used interchangeably, but there are still some distinctions:

    • The present continuous refers to an action someone is about to perform or to a future event or plan (not necessarily very specific or clearly defined).
    • The present simple refers to a clearly defined and official plan for the (near) future or to a regularly scheduled event that will repeat in the future.
    Examples: Present continuous vs. present simple for describing future events
    We are going to the shop. Do you want anything?

    The party officially starts at 5:30 p.m., but some of us are meeting for drinks beforehand.

    The trains to Paris depart once every two hours throughout the day.

    Present continuous vs. present perfect continuous

    Another tense that’s sometimes confused with the present continuous is the present perfect continuous (e.g., “has been writing”). These tenses should not be used interchangeably.

    Like the present continuous, the present perfect continuous also typically refers to an action that is currently ongoing. But there are two key differences that distinguish it from the present continuous:

    • It emphasises the fact that a current action extends into the past and is often used alongside an adverbial phrase that specifies when the action started (e.g., “since July” or “all week”).
    • It can also refer to a completed action, as long as it was completed only recently.
      Examples: Present perfect continuous
      I have been traveling around Asia for the last three months.

      It has been raining all day, but it just stopped.

      I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee since I gave up on fizzy drinks.

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      How to form negatives

      You can create a negative statement in the present continuous by inserting the adverb not between the two verbs. The adverb is often contracted with the first verb (as “aren’t” or “isn’t”), but this is not done in the first person (“amn’t” is not a word in standard English).

        Examples: Negative present continuous
        I am not going to the party.

        Paulus isn’t paying attention to the teacher.

        We aren’t getting very far like this, are we?

        How to form questions

        Yes–no questions are formed in the present continuous by placing the auxiliary verb (“is”, “are”, or “am”) first, followed by the subject and then the present participle (“-ing” verb).

          Examples: Present continuous questions
          Are you helping with the renovations?

          Is Barry meeting us at the gallery?

          Other kinds of questions are formed using wh-words (interrogative pronouns such as “who” and interrogative adverbs such as “why”). Follow the same word order as above, but with the wh-word added at the start of the sentence.

            Examples: Present continuous questions with wh-words
            What are we doing tomorrow?

            Why am I worrying about things I can’t control?

            When is he planning to arrive?

            How to form the passive voice

            The passive voice creates a sentence in which the subject is not the person or thing carrying out an action, but rather the person or thing being acted upon.

            In the present continuous, the passive voice consists of the subject, a form of “be” (“is”, “are”, or “am”), the present participle “being”, and finally the past participle of the verb describing the action.

              Examples: Present continuous passive constructions
              We are being followed by the police!

              My house is being renovated next week.

              All the proposals are being carefully considered.

              Exercises: Present simple vs. present continuous

              Test your understanding of the difference between the present simple and the present continuous with the exercises below. Fill in one of the two options in each sentence.

              1. I _______ every morning before work. [run/am running]
              2. Kevin _______ the kitchen right now. [cleans/is cleaning]
              3. Humans _______ about 12 times per minute. [blink/are blinking]
              4. The train _______ at 12 p.m. every day. [leaves/is leaving]
              5. Allie _______ at the moment. [studies/is studying]
              1. I run every morning before work.
                • “Run” is correct. In this instance, the present simple is used to refer to a habit.
              1. Kevin is cleaning the kitchen right now.
                • The present continuous form “is cleaning” is correct because it refers to a temporary action in the present.
              1. Humans blink about 12 times per minute.
                • The present simple form “blink” is correct. In this instance, it’s used to express a fact.
              1. The train leaves at 12 p.m. every day.
                • The present simple form “leaves” is correct. In this instance, it’s used to refer to a planned future event.
              1. Allie is studying at the moment.
                • The present continuous form “is studying” is correct because it refers to a temporary action that is currently taking place.

              Other interesting language articles

              If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.

              Frequently asked questions about the present continuous tense

              When do we use the present continuous?

              We use the present continuous tense (also called the present progressive) to describe a temporary action that is currently occurring (e.g., “I am gardening right now”) or sometimes a planned future event (e.g., “We are travelling to Greece this summer”).

              It’s used differently from the simple present, which instead indicates a habit (e.g., “I garden on Tuesdays”), a general truth (e.g., “Bears hibernate in the winter”), or a fixed situation or state (e.g., “She speaks French and German”).

              What is the ‘-ing’ form of a verb?

              The ‘-ing’ form of a verb is called the present participle. Present participles can be used as adjectives (e.g., ‘a thrilling story’) and to form the continuous verb tenses (e.g., the present continuous: ‘We are partying‘).

              Gerunds also use the ‘-ing’ form of a verb, but they function only as nouns (e.g., ‘I don’t enjoy studying‘).

              What is the present simple form of be?

              In the simple present tense, the stative verb “be” is used to describe temporary present situations (e.g., “I am tired”) and unchanging situations (e.g., “Laura is a doctor”). The form of the verb varies depending on the subject:

              • The first person singular uses “am” (e.g., “I am”)
              • The third person singular uses “is” (e.g., “he is”, “she is”, “it is”)
              • All other subjects use “are” (e.g., “you are”, “we are”, “they are”)

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              Jack Caulfield

              Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.