1. How Can You Form the Present Simple?
To use the present simple, you need to remember three things:
- Add an ‘s’ (or ‘es’) to the verb in the third person singular (for example, after ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’).
- Make negatives using don’t or doesn’t (use doesn’t for the 3rd person).
- Make questions with do or does.
- I visit them once a week. —> She visits them once a week. = Add an ‘s’ to the verb after he/she/it
- I have a lot of things to do. —> I don’t have a lot of things to do. = Make negatives with don’t
- I don’t have much time. —> He doesn’t have much time. = Make negatives with doesn’t after he/she/it
- You have a big family. —> Do you have a big family? = Make questions with do
- Do you live in this building? —> Does she live in this building? = Make questions with does with he/she/it
You can see that when we use does or doesn’t, we don’t add ‘s’ to the verb.
OK, that shows you how to form the present simple, but how can you use it?
2. Talking About a Regular Action
This is one of the most common uses of the present simple. Let’s look at some examples:
- She calls her parents every week.
- I don’t often go to the gym.
- Do you always eat so quickly?
In all of these sentences, we are talking about actions which happen (or don’t happen) regularly. These actions are not happening at this moment.
This is a simple use of the present simple, which you maybe knew already. But we’ve only just started. How else can you use the present simple?
3. Talking about General Truths
If you want to talk about something which is generally true, you will also need the present simple. For example:
- The Moon goes around the Earth.
- The Nile is the longest river in the world.
- Elephants live for 60 or 70 years on average.
These things are ‘generally true’ because they aren’t just true at one moment. They were true 100 years ago; they’re true today, and they’ll be true 100 years in the future.
Compare this to the previous idea: talking about regular actions.
In both cases, we use the present simple to talk about something which is true not just at this moment, but also in the future and the past.
This idea is an important part of the meaning of the present simple.
4. Talking about States and Situations
Think about the verb throw.
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.
Get more practice with this lesson from Oxford Online English on talking about sports.
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?
We use the present simple to talk about things in the future which are on a timetable or schedule.
This includes things like trains, planes and other public transport; meetings and appointments; classes and so on.
- Class starts at 10.00.
- The plane arrives at 12.20 at night.
- What time does the meeting start?
In all of these sentences, we are talking about the future, but because we are talking about timetables or schedules, we use the present simple.
Learn more with our other lesson about English Verb Tenses! Thanks for watching.