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English grammar explanations (present continuous).

Understanding present continuous.

The basics - structure:

The structure of present continuous is: subject + auxiliary "to be" + verb root + ing:

John is working.
Mary and her mother are swimming.

Contracted forms are allowed in a spoken English or informal written English.

John's working, I'm eating, you're drinking, he's / she's / it's coming, we're painting, they're studying.

Question forms:

There is inversion with the auxiliary verb "to be" and the subject:

Is John working?
Are Mary and her mother swimming?

 

Negative forms:

The word "not" is used, which can usually join with the subject or the auxiliary verb "to be" in contracted forms:

You're not watching television OR you aren't watching television.
He's / she's / it's not waiting OR he / she / it isn't waiting.
We're not reading OR we aren't reading.
They're not playing football OR they aren't playing football.
The computer's not working OR the computer isn't working.

BUT:

I'm not studying English at the moment. And never "I amn't studying English...".

 

Present continuous - use in real life:

There are two main uses of the present continuous: to talk about the present and to talk about the future.

1) Present continuous for present actions.

a) Actions which are happening at this moment in time:

She's writing a report right now.
John's busy just now. He's washing his car.
Just a moment. I'm just finishing this exercise.

b) Actions also happening in the present but not necessarily exactly now. In other words, when we talk about activities that are happening in our lives in the present: studies, temporary work situations, temporary projects...

I'm going to intensive classes at an English academy this month.
Mary's working at the local supermarket until she finds something better.
We're currently developing a marketing campaign to sell our new products.

Compare with present simple...

Verbs which do not use "ing".

There are some verbs which we do not usually use in the form: subject + auxiliary "to be" + verb root + ing. The verbs may express a very present time but we use the present simple form of the verb and not present continuous. Some of these verbs are:

like, hate, dislike, love, want, prefer, wish, need, know, hope, believe, doubt, mean, realize, recognize, remember, suppose, contain, depend on, matter, owe, own, possess, appear, resemble, seem, understand, see, hear, taste, smell, be and usually have when it expresses possession, eg. I have a car. For example:

I like this pizza I'm eating at the moment (not I'm liking).
I need to finish this now (not I'm needing).
I see you don't want to go (not I'm seeing you're not wanting to go).
I have the report here (not I'm having).

Some of these verbs can have different meanings from the above. With these different meanings the ing form may be possible:

I'm seeing a new girl at the moment (see means have a relationship with)
I'm having a bath just now (have means take).

Verbs that talk about how we are physically: feel, ache, hurt, can use either the simple or the continuous form with the same meaning:

I feel fine today. / I'm feeling fine today.
My arm aches. / My arm is aching.

Finally, we can express more formality with some verbs if we use the simple form of the verb. This can be seen in letter correspondence:

I write to inform you... (formal).
(See example...)
I'm writing to let you know... (menos formal).

I look forward to hearing from you. (formal).
I'm looking forward to hearing from you. (menos formal).
(See example...)

 

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2) Present continuous for future actions.

The present continuous structure is used to talk about future actions. As this structure is firstly a present tense, we must make it clear when we want to use it to talk about future. We can do this by using time adverbs, for example, adverbs that express future. Look at the sentence:

I'm going to Madrid.

This sentence without more context means that I am going to Madrid at this moment.

I'm going to Madrid tomorrow.

The adverb "tomorrow" clearly shows this is future.

This structure is used to talk about future when we mention activities that we have planned. If we think of what we write in our diary, this will give us an idea of the most common use of present continuous for future:

I'm going to the gym on Wednesday evening.
My wife and I are playing squash on Saturday morning.
I'm not doing anything this afternoon. I'm free.
Are you coming to see me next week?


- Comparing present continuous with present simple...

- Exercises on the present continuous...

 

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