How many ways do you know to use the present simple? The present simple doesn’t just have one or two uses; there are at least eight common uses, and many more special cases. In this lesson, you can learn all about the present simple tense. Beginners can learn simple ways to use this verb tense, and more advanced students can learn about more complex uses of the present simple.
QUIZ: The Present Simple Verb Tense
How well do you understand how and when to use the present simple? Check by trying this quiz!
There are 20 questions and you’ll get your score at the end. Then, you can choose ‘View Questions’ to review the answers, or ‘Restart Quiz’ to try again. Don’t forget to put your score on the leaderboard!
Time limit: 0
0 of 20 Questions completed
You have already completed the quiz before. Hence you can not start it again.
Throwing is an action. It’s something which can be happening at one moment. A question: are all verbs actions?
Think about a verb like seem. Is seeming an action? Can you say you’re seeming very quiet today?
No, and no. Verbs like seem describe states, not actions. We use the present simple to talk about all states in the present. For example:
You seem a bit quiet today.
He has a lot of experience in his subject.
Why does this one cost more than the others?
Many verbs which describe states, like seem or cost, can only be used in simple tenses. They don’t exist in continuous tenses.
Again, you can see the same idea of something which is true not just now, at this moment, but also in the future and the past.
If you say he has a lot of experience in his subject, that means that he had a lot of experience last week, and he’ll have a lot of experience next week, too. It’s not just about this moment.
5. With Many Verbs of Sensing, Feeling, Thinking or Speaking
With many verbs of sensing (like hear, see or smell), feeling (like like, love or hate) thinking (like know, realise or remember) or speaking (like promise, admit or advise), we use the present simple.
This is because many of these verbs describe states, and the present simple is used to talk about states, as you saw just now. Let’s look at some more examples:
This cheese smells a bit strange.
I don’t like going shopping.
Do you realise what you’re doing?
I promise it won’t happen again.
In all of these sentences, only the present simple is possible. You can’t say Are you realising what you’re doing? Or I’m promising it won’t happen again.
6. Talking about Long-Lasting Situations
If you say:
She lives with her friend.
She’s living with her friend.
Are they the same? If not, what’s the difference?
If you say she lives with her friend, with the present simple, this suggests that the situation is permanent, or at least long-lasting. She’s not just staying with her friend for a few weeks. She lives with her friend, permanently.
If you say she’s living with her friend, with the present continuous, this suggests that the situation is temporary. Maybe she’s just staying with her friend while she looks for her own place.
When we use the present simple to talk about a situation, it suggests that the situation has continued for a long time, and/or that we expect this situation to continue for a long time into the future.
In some cases, it’s possible to use either the present simple or the present continuous in the same sentence.
Using the present simple shows a situation is long-lasting or permanent, while using the present continuous shows that a situation is just temporary.
He works for a small design company. –> This is his career. He’ll probably stay there a long time.
He’s working for a small design company. –> He works there at the moment. He might change jobs soon.
I go to the gym every week. –> I do this every week, every month, all year. Next month, I’ll still be going to the gym.
I’m going to the gym every week. –> I’m doing this at the moment. Next month, you might not see me there!
In all of these sentences, both forms are possible (simple and continuous). The present simple shows that these situations are long-lasting, while the present continuous shows that these situations probably won’t continue for a long time.
7. Telling Stories or Jokes in Conversational English
Imagine you’re telling a story to your friends. What verb form should you use? You should use the past, right? After all, you’re talking about something which happened in the past.
That’s logical, but it’s not always true. We often use the present simple to tell stories or jokes, even for things which happened in the past. This is only possible in conversational English.
Why do we do this? Using the present simple instead of the past makes the story sound more direct and exciting.
So, I see this guy who looks just like Johnny Depp, and I go up to talk to him, but then I trip and throw my drink all over him! He gives me this look, like I’m a complete idiot, and just walks away.
Similarly, the present simple is often used in newspaper headlines, even for things which happened in the past.
Prime Minister resigns
Scientists discover new element
8. In Commentary
We use the present simple in commentary. What’s commentary?
Commentary means describing something as it’s happening, usually on TV or on the radio.
For example, sports matches have commentators, who describe the match to listeners or viewers.
Commentators use the present simple to talk about shorter actions which are happening at that moment.
He passes, he shoots… He hits the post!
She serves, but Williams makes a great return.
The prince waits at the altar, while the princess walks slowly up the aisle.
This might seem strange. Commentary describes something which is happening now, so you might think we should use the present continuous. Commentary does use the present continuous, but mostly for longer actions.
He’s warming up and getting ready to come on.
The players are taking a break while the medic treats her leg.
Normally, we use the present simple for longer actions and the present continuous for shorter actions. In commentary, the opposite is true; the present simple describes shorter actions.
You’re nearly finished. We have one more use of the present simple.
What is it? Let’s look:
9. Talking About Future Schedules
Finally, you can also use the present simple to talk about the future. How?