The present continuous is one of the most commonly used tenses in English. It is very versatile, so it can be difficult to use correctly. In this guide, we will look at the correct way to use the present continuous tense, provide examples and go over some common mistakes to avoid. Check out the quiz exercises at the end to test your understanding!
The present continuous tense shows us that an action is in progress right now, is ongoing or is repeating into the future. It can also express that an action will happen in the near future. E.g. I am eating dinner (now). He is reading a long book (this month). The sun is rising at 5am (tomorrow).
Like the present simple tense, the present continuous can be used to express activities that are taking place at the present moment.
Steve is playing table tennis with his friend.
Steve lost the match, and now he is crying.
Steve’s friend is consoling him as best as he can.
We also use the present continuous tense to describe ongoing events or activities. These are taking place in the present moment (though not necessarily at this exact instant) and are also expected to continue for a while.
Steve is taking a long time to recover from losing the table tennis match.
After a hard week at work, Rachel is relaxing all weekend.
Harry is improving his football skills each week.
Another usage for the present continuous tense is to describe events that will happen in the near future.
The Sun is rising tomorrow at 6:10am.
We are watching it rise with some friends.
You can place words like ‘always’, ‘repeatedly’ or ‘constantly’ between ‘to be’ and the verb to describe something that happens over and over again. Often, this usage will be somewhat negative in meaning.
Jack’s favourite team is always losing to weaker rivals.
People are constantly gaining strength and wisdom from their life lessons.
Rail strikes are repeatedly causing delays on the Northern Line.
There can be affirmative (positive), negative, and questioning functions for all of the above uses of the present continuous tense.
To form the present continuous in regular cases, we use the present simple form of ‘to be’ after the subject, then add -ing to the base form of the verb we want to use.
Note that when the verb ends in ‘e’, we remove this letter before adding -ing. However, there is a common exception: ‘to see’ (for which we simply add -ing in the usual way).
Linda ‘to be’ play football with her friends right now.
Becomes: Li is playing football with her friends right now.
How to conjugate verbs in the present continuous tense in the affirmative:
|‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||I am playing||I am making||I am seeing|
|2nd person singular||You are playing||You are making||You are seeing|
|3rd person singular||He/she/it is playing||He/she/it is making||He/she/it is seeing|
|1st person plural||We are playing||We are making||We are seeing|
|2nd person plural||You are playing||You are making||You are seeing|
|3rd person plural||They are playing||They are making||They are seeing|
To form the negative function of the present continuous tense, place ‘not’ between ‘to be’ and the verb.
Linda is not playing football with her friends right now.
How to conjugate verbs in the present continuous tense in the negative:
|‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||I am not playing||I am not making||I am not seeing|
|2nd person singular||You are not playing||You are not making||You are not seeing|
|3rd person singular||He/she/it is not playing||He/she/it is not making||He/she/it is not seeing|
|1st person plural||We are not playing||We are not making||We are not seeing|
|2nd person plural||You are not playing||You are not making||You are not seeing|
|3rd person plural||They are not playing||They are not making||They are not seeing|
To form the interrogative (questioning) function of the present continuous tense, simply place the verb ‘to be’ before the subject.
Fact: Li is playing football with her friends right now.
Question: Is Li playing football with her friends right now?
How to conjugate verbs in the present continuous tense in the interrogative:
|‘to play’||‘to make’||‘to see’|
|1st person singular||Am I playing||Am I making||Am I seeing|
|2nd person singular||Are you playing||Are you making||Are you seeing|
|3rd person singular||I he/she/it playing||Is he/she/it making||Is he/she/it seeing|
|1st person plural||Are we playing||Are we making||Are we seeing|
|2nd person plural||Are you playing||Are you making||Are you seeing|
|3rd person plural||Are they playing||Are they making||Are they seeing|
It is essential to include the correct form of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ when using the present continuous tense. This is always a mistake in Standard English, but in casual (or informal) English you can sometimes hear omissions or irregular uses of ‘to be’.
We playing card games while Jeff cooks dinner. (incorrect)
We are playing card games while Jeff cooks dinner. (correct)
They not living in London anymore? (incorrect, but possible in casual English)
Aren’t they living in London anymore? (correct)
Sometimes learners mistakenly substitute ‘to be’ with ‘to do’, especially when forming questions. However, the correct auxiliary verb is ‘to be’, in the form that agrees with the subject.
Do you waiting in the Zoom meeting room already? (incorrect)
Are you waiting in the Zoom meeting room? (correct)
When do we leaving? (incorrect)
When are we leaving? (correct)
In regular cases, it is necessary to remove the final ‘e’ from the end of verbs when forming the present continuous tense (with ‘to see’ as an exception). When writing, it is a mistake to leave in this final ‘e’ before adding -ing.
Steve is rakeing up the leaves in his garden. (incorrect)
Steve is raking up the leaves in his garden. (correct)
These days I am wakeing up early to do yoga. (incorrect)
These days I am waking up early to do yoga. (correct)
If you are talking about something that is happening in the present moment, then there are a variety of grammatical options available. However, if you use the word ‘now’ (or another similar word), then it is often best to use the present continuous tense. Some learners prefer to use the present simple tense when the more appropriate choice would actually be the present continuous.
Liam checks his phone right now. (incorrect)
Liam is checking his phone right now. (correct)
The present continuous is not usually used with stative verbs, which are verbs of thinking, feeling or senses. Learners might attempt to form the present continuous tense with these verbs, but it sounds wrong. It is better to use the present simple tense with this class of verbs.
Jack’s mother is understanding him very well. (incorrect)
Jack’s mother understands him very well. (correct)