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Present Continuous Tense: Definition & Examples

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Instructor
Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Expert Contributor
Marc Mancinelli

Marc is a long-time HS English teacher and has taught at the college level. He has a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in education.

The present continuous tense is a frequently used tense in the English language. In this lesson, we will go over the definition of the tense as well as how it is used in everyday speech.

What Is Present Continuous Tense?

Present continuous tense, otherwise known as the present progressive tense, is formed when the present tense of the 'to be' verb is connected with a present participle. A present participle is a verb that ends in '-ing'. The present continuous tense allows the speaker to talk about things that are and that are not happening now, temporarily, repeatedly, and in the near future. In this lesson, we will go over the uses of present continuous tense and look at examples to help you fully understand how to properly use this tense in a sentence.

Present Continuous Tense Uses

The present continuous tense cannot be used with non-continuous verbs or mixed verbs. A non-continuous verb is a verb that cannot be physically seen. For example, the verbs 'to love', 'to own', and 'to need' are examples of non-continuous verbs. A mixed verb is a verb that can have multiple meanings and behave like a normal or non-continuous verb. The verbs 'to have' and 'to miss' are examples of mixed verbs.

Let's gain an understanding of the other rules for using present continuous tense by looking at a few examples, starting with talking about the present. The present continuous tense can be used to talk about the present when the speaker is referring to something that is happening in that moment or something that occurs before or after a certain time.

If something is or is not happening at the moment, the speaker might say:

  • I'm running to the store; I'll be home later.
  • The baby is sleeping.
  • I am not eating doughnuts for breakfast.

If something is happening before or after a certain time, the speaker might say:

  • At two in the afternoon, we are eating lunch.
  • When you come home, dinner is cooking in the oven.

The present continuous tense can be used to refer to the present when something is perceived as temporary. The tense is used to discuss something that is in process as well and doesn't necessarily refer to something that is happening at that very moment. For example, the speaker might say:

  • Andrea is studying English at college.
  • I'm spending time in Hawaii for a month this summer.

The present continuous tense is used to speak about the present when something new is different from its former condition. For example, a person might say:

  • What type of music are teenagers listening to these days?
  • Nobody is listening to their parents the same way anymore.

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Additional Activities

Review:

The present continuous tense is used to talk about something that is currently happening in an ongoing way, generally for a finite period of time - think of it as something that is going on. We form the present continuous by taking am, is, & are - forms of the verb "to be" - and adding -ing to the main verb. It looks like this:

- I am walking home later.
- They are visiting this afternoon.
- He is serving dinner at 6:00.

Practice:

Take the verb in parentheses and form the present continuous tense to complete the sentence.

1) Joanie said that she (eat) with her classmates at lunch.

2) You (sit) in the second row for this performance.

3) I can't believe that they (sing) another song right now.

4) We (go) home as soon as she lets us.

5) Everyone (pack) their suitcases for vacation.

Other Ways To Use:

The present continuous can also be used when you are talking (look, you are talking!) about something that happens often or is often repeated. You can break up the present-continuous phrasing with words that emphasize this fact, such as "often," "always," "constantly," etc. For example:

- The twins are always getting into trouble.
- Patti is forever telling me what I should do.
- Lars is constantly making us do complicated exercises.

Practice:

Take the verb in parentheses and form the present continuous tense plus an emphasizing word to complete the sentence.

6) The beach (change); it never looks exactly the same as it did the day before.

7) Our teachers (assign) us homework over the weekend!

8) Kevin and Paul (look) for something to eat; they are always hungry.

9) My dogs (hope) that someone will take them for a walk.

10) My neighbor (travel) somewhere; it's like he's never home.

Answer Key:

1) Joanie said that she is eating with her classmates at lunch.
2) You are sitting in the second row for this performance.
3) I can't believe that they are singing another song right now.
4) We are going home as soon as she lets us.
5) Everyone is packing their suitcases for vacation.

Note that the emphasis words in numbers 6-10 are suggestions, and several different words (e.g., "always," "forever," "continuously") will work.

6) The beach is always changing; it never looks exactly the same as it did the day before.
7) Our teachers are constantly assigning us homework over the weekend!
8) Kevin and Paul are forever looking for something to eat; they are always hungry.
9) My dogs are always hoping that someone will take them for a walk.
10) My neighbor is constantly traveling somewhere; it's like he's never home.

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