The present simple tense vs. the present continuous tense



In this lesson we look at something that causes a lot of problems for English students. I often hear these 2 questions: When should I use the present simple tense? and When should I use the present continuous tense?

The most common mistake that students make is to use the present simple tense to talk about things that are happening now (i.e. present actions). We use the present continuous tense for this use. We do not use the present simple tense. Look at these examples. 

You look at the screen. X (present simple tense)
You are looking at the screen. (present continuous tense - You are doing this now.) 

You read this lesson. X (present simple tense)
You are reading this lesson. (present continuous tense - You are doing this now.) 

You visit my blog. X (present simple tense)
You are visiting my blog. (present continuous tense - You are doing this now.) 

You think about this lesson. X (present simple tense)
You are thinking about this lesson. (present continuous tense - You are doing this now.) 

Can I use the present simple tense with actions? 

Yes, you can! If the action is a current habit or repeated action, you should use the present simple tense. Look at these example sentences:

I write a lesson every day. (present simple tense - This is a habit. I do this regularly.)

I go to class once a week. (present simple tense - This is a habit. I do this one time every week.) 

Suzy sleeps longer on weekends. - (present simple tense - This is a habit. Suzy does this every weekend.) 

Max and Mona go their parents' home twice a month. - (present simple tense - This is a habit. Max and Mona do this every month.)

We often use adverbs of frequency with this use of the present simple tense:

John always takes a shower in the morning. 

Max rarely talks to his brother. 

Suzy and Lucy occasionally go to the cinema together. 

Are there any other uses for the present simple tense?

Yes! We can also use the present simple tense to talk about present states and facts:

1) rise 

The sun rises in the East. - (present simple tense - It is a fact.)
The sun is rising in the East. X

COMPARE

Look! The sun is rising. Isn't it beautiful? (present continuous tense - It is an action that is happening now.)  
Look! The sun rises. Isn't it beautiful? X

2) boil

Water boils at 100°C at sea level. (present simple tense - It is a fact.)
Water is boiling at 100°C at sea level. X

COMPARE

The water for the coffee is boiling. (present continuous tense - It is an action that is happening now.)
The water for the coffee boils. X

3) come


I come from South Africa. (present simple tense - It is a fact.)
I am coming from South Africa. X

COMPARE

John is coming back from China. (present continuous tense - It is an action that is happening now or around now.)

We often use state verbs with this use of the present simple tense:

John feels sad. (present simple tense - This is a state.)

I have 2 brothers. (present simple tense - This is a fact.)

I like koeksisters. (present simple tense - This is a state.)

Here is a good example of 2 questions that students often answer incorrectly:

Suzy: What do you do? 
John: I am talking to you. X

The question 'What do you do?' is in the present simple tense. It asks about a present fact. Literally, the question means 'What is your job?'. 

Suzy: What do you do? 
John: I am a firefighter.

If you ask the question 'What are you doing?' it is in the present continuous tense. You are literally asking 'What are you doing now or around now?'.

Suzy: What are you doing now?
John: I am trying to repair my printer. 

Are there even more uses for the present simple tense and the present continuous tense? 

Yes, but we will talk about these in a future lesson. 

Lesson Vocabulary

screen (noun)

koeksisters (noun)

firefighter (noun)

printer (noun)

Exercise

Your turn! Try to write down 5 present simple sentences that show present facts or states. Please leave your answers in the comments section and I will gladly give you some feedback. 

10 comments:

mt203948 said...

1- I think that sometimes inks cost more expensive than printers.
2- Life is often cheaper in countrysides.
3- I have my account on Youtube.
4- Firefighters are quite courageous.
5- Nepal is between India to the sounth and Tibet to the north.

Thank you
mt203948

Francois Oosthuizen said...

Thank you for doing the exercise, mt203948.

Thank you for subscribing to my YouTube account!

1) I think that sometimes inks cost more expensive than printers. X
I think that ink cartridges are more expensive than printers.
- You do not need to use an adverb of frequency here because this shows a state.
- The noun 'ink' is uncountable. Since you buy the ink in a container(i.e. a cartridge), you should use it.
- You cannot use the verb 'cost' with 'expensive', 'cheap', 'inexpensive', 'affordable'. For these words, you can use the verb 'to be'. 'When we talk about the actual money, you can use both.
The book costs expensive. X
The book is expensive.
The book costs/is a lot of money.
The books costs/is $500.
2) Life is often cheaper in countrysides. X
Life is cheaper in the countryside.
- You do not need to use an adverb of frequency here because this shows a state.
- We talk about 'the countryside'.
3) I have my account on Youtube. X
I have an account on Youtube. X
- You already used the verb 'have' to show that it is your account so you don't need to use the possessive adjective(my).
I have a Facebook account.
My Facebook account doesn't work.
4) Great!
5) Nepal is between India to the sounth and Tibet to the north. X
- Is 'sounth' a typing mistake? It should be 'south'.

I hope this helps!

mt203948 said...

*** Thank you for help!

1- Everything is more expensive nowaday because of inflation.
2- In general, life is cheaper in the countryside.

*** Thank you for your comment on my Youtube account. I am not able to do all these things. I simply made a photomontage and inserted the music.

mt203948

Francois Oosthuizen said...

You're welcome, mt203948!

Great! I am glad to see you are trying to correct your mistakes. That is a good way to learn.
nowaday => nowadays

You chose good music! Do you know the name of the composer?

mt203948 said...

His name is Nguyên anh 9.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5uGKd6Vs10&feature=related
http://music.forvn.com/show/451377/piano-solo-nguyen-anh-9.html


Greetings
mt203948

Francois Oosthuizen said...

He's talented!

Thanh Tung said...

1. I learn English for three times a week at the language school.
2. My sons often go swimming on the weekends.
3. My wife always reads a book every night before she going to bed.
4. My close friend have 2 sons and a daughter.
5. Francois is a my English teacher.

Francois Oosthuizen said...

Thank you for doing the exercise, Thanh! I see you have done a couple of exercises again. Keep up the good work!

1) I learn English for three times a week at the language school. X
I learn English three times a week at the language school.
- You do not need the preposition 'for'.
2) Great! (This is a habit. This is not a state)
3) My wife always reads a book every night before she going to bed. X
My wife reads a book every night before going to bed. (This is a habit. This is not a state)
- You should not use 'always' and 'every night' in the same sentence because they have similar meanings.
- before + verb + ing / before + subject + the base form of the verb:
... before she goes to bed.
... before she going to bed. X
... before going to bed.
... before go to bed. X
4) My close friend have 2 sons and a daughter. X
My close friend has 2 sons and a daughter.
- 'My close friend' refers to 'he' or 'she' and this sentence is in the present simple tense so the verb should change.
5) Francois is a my English teacher. X
Francois is my English teacher.
- You should not use an indefinite article(a) and a possessive adjective(my) together.

Mohammed Ahmed said...

1- My name is Mohammed. ( present fact )
1- I feel really hot. ( present states )
2- He is a boy. ( present fact )
2- She is ill. ( present states )
3- We go to school by bus. ( present fact )
3- They want break a free. ( present states )
4- They arrive to the Khartoum tonight. ( present fact )
4- He wants break a free. ( present states )
5- She goes to work at 8:00 AM.( present fact )
5- It eats unhealthy food. ( present states )

Francois Oosthuizen said...

Thank you for doing the exercise, Mohammed!

These are all very good except for 3b and 4:

3b)They want break a free. X
They want to break free.
4a) They arrive to the Khartoum tonight. X
They arrive at Khartoum tonight.
- arrive AT / go TO / come TO:
He arrived at my house.
He went to the cinema.
He came to my house.
4b) He wants break a free. X
He wants to break free.

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