The present continuous is one of the most commonly used tenses in English and so it’s important to understand it well. We also use the phrase present progressive to describe the present continuous. So, you may see present continuous in one book and present progressive in another. For English speakers these two are the same, there is no difference!
We form the present continuous with the verb to be as the auxiliary verb and the -ing suffix for the main verb.
Remember, Be has to be conjugated for the correct person:
- am = I
- is = he, she, it
- are = we, they, you
Examples: I’m writing this sentence. My cat is sleeping. The people outside are singing.
We also add the -ing suffix to the end of verbs. For example:
- teach – teaching
- sleep – sleeping
- talk – talking
If a verb ends with -e this -e is taken away when we add the -ing suffix:
- drive – driving
- take – taking
- congratulate – congratulating
- procrastinate – procrastinating
The present continuous has two main uses in the present:
- To describe an action happening at the time of speaking. This simple means I can use it to describe what is or isn’t happening now. For example: I am writing on my laptop. The other teachers are all teaching. The students are learning. The sun isn’t shining.
- To describe a habitual action when that habit isn’t permanent. We usually use the present simple to talk about actions that are permanent and repeated but not happening at the time of speaking (I take the bus to work every morning), but if I want to say that this repeated action is only temporary for a time around now (this week, this year, etc.) I use the present continuous ( I’m cycling to work every day this week).
We often use at the moment and these days when we make sentences about repeated but temporary actions, such as; I’m eating a lot of fruit at the moment (I’m not eating right now), or I’m doing a lot of sport these days (I’m not doing sport right now).
The important difference between these tenses is that while both the present simple and the present continuous can describe habitual actions, the present simple is for permanent habitual actions and the present continuous is for temporary habitual actions.
For example: I usually drive to work, but this week I’m taking the bus because my car is in the garage.
The present continuous is also a very useful tense when talking about the future. We use different tenses for the future to show whether our sentence is a prediction, plan, intention, spontaneous decision, a future fact, etc. The present continuous is commonly used for plans and arrangements.
For example: I am going to the gym this evening. My parents are visiting us this weekend.
The present continuous for the future can be confused with be going to, they look similar but they are a little bit different both in form and use.
be going to: I‘m going to meet Tom this weekend. Be going to + main verb with -ing
Present continuous: I‘m meeting Tom at 6pm tonight. Be + main verb with -ing.
We use Be going to for intentions, usually without a specific time expression: I’m going to meet Tom this weekend. That is, at some point this weekend, but I don’t have a specific day or time.
However, the present continuous is mostly used for arrangements, meaning it has a specific time: I’m meeting Tom at 6pm tonight. Specifically, Tom and I have arranged a day and a time.