English grammar: The Present Continuous Tense

When we talk about things that happen now – at this moment – we can use the Present Continuous tense.

How to form the Present Continuous tense

There are three parts to this tense:

1. Subject / Subject pronoun
2. Verb "to be"
3. Verb + ing

Use the verb "to be" as the auxiliary for questions and negatives (NOT do / does).

Here are the ways you can form affirmative, negative and questions in the Present Continuous:

Affirmative sentences

I am working
You are working
He / She / It is working
We are working
They are working

Abbreviated form:

I'm working
You're working
He's working / She's / It's working
We're working
They're working

Negative sentences

I am not / I'm not working
You are not / You aren't working
He / She / It is not / He / She / It isn't working
We are not / We aren't working
They are not / They aren't working

Questions

Am I working?
Are you working?
Is he / Is she / Is it working?
Are we working?
Are they working?

Short replies

Use the verb "to be" as the auxiliary

Yes I am / No I'm not
Yes you are / No you aren't
Yes he is / No he isn't
Yes we are / No we aren't
Yes they are / No they aren't

Spelling rules

When the verb ends in a single vowel and consonant, double the consonant before adding -ing:
rub = rubbing
bid = bidding
dig = digging
label = labelling (although in American English you don't double the 'l' = labeling)
spam = spamming
run = running
tap = tapping
sit = sitting

When the verb ends in -e, delete the -e and add -ing:
make = making
write = writing

But if the verb ends -ee, don't delete the -e:
agree = agreeing

Some verbs that end -ie change to -y + ing
die = dying
tie = tying
lie = lying

When to use the Present Continuous tense

Use this tense to:

– talk about things that are happening now / around now

For example:

"The people next door are shouting." (At this precise moment)
"Shhh. Tony's talking on the phone." (At this precise moment)
"Tom's working at the supermarket this summer." (Around now)
"Our football team is doing really well this season." (Around now)

These things are temporary, rather than permanent. For example, Tom is working at the supermarket only for a few months this summer. It's probably not his permanent job.

– talk about trends and developments

For example:

"It's getting more expensive to go to university."
"People are living longer."

Differences between the Present Continuous and the Present Simple

Remember: in English grammar we use the simple aspect (ie the Present Simple or Past Simple) for situations that are always true, and for routines or permanent situations. We use the continuous aspect (ie the Present Continuous or Past Continuous) for situations that are temporary, or changing.

I live in France. (Present Simple: it is my permanent home)
I'm staying in a small hotel during the conference. (Present Continuous: it is a temporary place to stay for a limited period of time)

People live a long time in Japan. (Present Simple: a true situation / fact.)
People are living longer. ((Present Continuous: a trend that is happening now.)

When you see words and phrases such as at the moment, this week; use the present continuous. When you see words and phrases such as always, never, from time to time; use the present simple tense.

"We're working on a difficult project at the moment."
"He's doing some health and safety training this week."

"He always eats fish and chips on Fridays."
"They never watch TV after dinner."
"She goes to London on business trips from time to time."

Present Continuous Tense Exercise

Click the Start button below to begin the exercise. For each question, select the missing word from the choices. Then click the arrow on the right to go to the next question.
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