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How to Use the Present Continuous Verb Tense – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 14 April, 2017 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn about the present continuous verb tense in English.

Do you know to form and use the present continuous? Like many verb tenses in English, the present continuous has many different uses and meanings. You can learn more in this class.

You’ll see all the possible meanings of the present continuous; whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, you’re sure to find something new.

1. How Can You Form the Present Continuous?

To form the present continuous, you use:

  • Be + verb + -ing

For example:

  • He’s washing his car.
  • They’re watching a film.

What about negatives and questions?

To make negatives, add not after be.

  • She isn’t doing anything.
  • I’m not working on that right now.

To make questions, move the verb be before the subject.

  • Is he doing anything?
  • Are you talking to me?

The same rule works if you ask a question with a question word like what, why, how, etc. Move the verb be before the subject.

  • What are you watching?
  • Where are they going?

You can see that to make questions in the present continuous, you don’t add anything. Don’t add words like do or did. Just change the order of the words!

So now you know how to form sentences and questions with the present continuous. But how do you use it?

Let’s look.

2. Something Happening Right Now

This is the most basic use of the present continuous.

  • He’s washing his car.
  • They’re watching a film.

These sentences are talking about something which is happening at this moment. He’s washing his car right now. They’re watching a film at this moment.

We can also use the present continuous to talk about:

3. Something which has Started but not Finished

This sounds similar to the last point. If we say:

  • He’s washing his car.

This means he’s started washing his car, but he hasn’t finished yet.

If we say:

  • They’re watching a film.

That means they’ve started watching the film, but they haven’t finished yet.

So what’s the difference? Why is this separate to the last point?

It’s different because we can also use the present continuous in this way to talk about things which are not happening right now. For example:

  • I’m reading a good book at the moment.
  • She’s looking for a new apartment.

If I say I’m reading a good book at the moment, I don’t mean that I’m reading right now, at this minute. I mean that I’ve started a book and I haven’t finished it yet.

In the same way, She’s looking for a new apartment doesn’t mean that she’s out looking for an apartment this minute. It means she’s started looking for an apartment, but she hasn’t found one yet.

In these examples, we use the present continuous to talk about things happening around this moment, not necessarily at this specific moment.

4. Describing a Picture

If you have a picture or a photo, and you want to describe it to someone, you use the present continuous.

A picture or a photo is like a moment in time. That’s why we use the continuous form to talk about it.

For example:

Workmen sitting on a high beam above the city eating lunch.

Here, we can use the present continuous to talk about what we see:

  • They are sitting on a beam, high above the city.
  • The two men on the left are smoking.
  • Some of them are eating sandwiches.

It doesn’t matter that the picture was taken a long time ago. We can still use the present continuous to describe it.

5. Talking about Temporary Situations

Another use of the present continuous is to show that something is temporary. Look at two sentences:

  • He lives with his parents.
  • He’s living with his parents.

What’s the difference? Why would you use the present continuous here?

In these sentences, the present continuous shows that the situation is temporary. If you say he lives with his parents, you mean that this is permanent.

If you say he’s living with his parents, you mean that this is a temporary situation. Maybe he’s living with his parents while he saves enough money to get his own place.

Let’s look at one more example here:

  • She works in the marketing department.
  • She’s working in the marketing department.

Is the difference clear now?

If you say she works in the marketing department, you mean that this is her permanent job.

If you say she’s working in the marketing department, you mean that she normally works somewhere else. She’s just working in the marketing department temporarily.

6. Talking About a Changing Situation

Yes, there are a lot of ways to use the present continuous! Remember that you don’t have to learn all of this at once. This video will still be here; take a break and review what we’ve done so far if you need to.

You can also use the present continuous to talk about a situation which is changing over time. For example:

  • The population of our city is growing by around 5% a year.
  • My English is slowly getting better.
  • The river used to be really polluted, but it’s getting cleaner.

In all of these examples, we’re talking about a change which is happening over time, and which will probably continue into the future. If I say:

  • The population of our city is growing by around 5% a year.

This means that I expect the population to continue growing, at least for the next few years.

OK, so you’ve seen how the present continuous can be used to talk about:

  1. Things happening now.
  2. Things which have started but not finished.
  3. Describing pictures.
  4. Temporary situations.
  5. Changing situations.

All of the meanings we’ve seen so far are similar. They are all about something happening around a moment in time. However, there are also some other ways to use the present continuous which are completely different.

Let’s look at a very important one.

7. Talking about Arrangements in the Future

Many English learners use will to talk about the future, but will can’t be used for everything. Actually, the present continuous is one of the most common ways to talk about the future in English.

If you have a solid plan or arrangement, meaning you know where and/or when something will happen, you can use the present continuous to talk about it. For example:

  • We’re meeting outside the cinema at 8.00.
  • They’re coming to ours for dinner on Saturday.
  • What are you doing next weekend?

It’s very common to use the present continuous when you talk about plans for the near future, social plans, and so on.

8. Talking about Something Strange or Annoying

Now we’re getting to more specialised, less common uses of the present continuous.

Using the present continuous together with adverbs like always, constantly or continually can show that you find a repeated action annoying or strange. For example:

  • He’s always forgetting to bring the things he needs.
  • They’re constantly gossiping about me behind my back.
  • My boss is continually interrupting me while I’m trying to work.

If you say:

  • He’s always forgetting to bring the things he needs.

You means that he often forgets to bring things, and you find this strange or annoying.

This use of the present continuous is unusual, because we’re using the present continuous to talk about a repeated action or a habit. We don’t normally do that.

You must use an adverb in these sentences. You can’t say:

  • He’s forgetting to bring the things he needs. –> incorrect
  • He’s always forgetting to bring the things he needs. –> correct

To give it the meaning of something which you find strange/annoying, you need an adverb. Always is the most common adverb to use in these sentences.

OK, we’re nearly there! One more to go:

9. Talking about New Feelings

Again, this is a very specialised, less common way to use the present continuous. What does it mean?

Think about these two sentences:

  • I realise I made the wrong decision.
  • I’m realising I made the wrong decision.

They’re both possible, but what’s the difference?

In the first sentence:

  • I realise I made the wrong decision.

Your realisation is not a new feeling. But, when you say:

  • I’m realising I made the wrong decision.

You mean that you are just starting to think about this. The feeling (= that you made the wrong decision) is still growing in you.

Let’s do one more example:

  • I find it difficult to work with him.
  • I’m finding it difficult to work with him.

Can you see the difference?

Again, if you say:

  • I find it difficult to work with him.

This is not something new for you. You generally find him difficult, and you dislike working with him.

If you say:

  • I’m finding it difficult to work with him.

This means that you are just starting to realise how difficult he is, and how you dislike working with him. These feelings are new to you.

Okay, that’s the end of the lesson. There’s a lot of information in this video, so you might find it useful to review some parts of the video again.

That’s all for now. Thanks very much for watching!

 

Present Continuous Verb Tense Quiz

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Oli RedmanHow to Use the Present Continuous Verb Tense – Video Lesson