We use the present continuous tense in several different ways in English. These explanations and many examples will help you master this tense and feel confident about when to use it.
Before we get started, please note that this is often also called the present progressive tense. The words "continuous" and "progressive" tell us that the action is continuing or in progress.
[Note: Click here to learn how to form the present continuous.]
We use the present continuous to talk about things that are happening now / right now / at this moment / at this very moment. The action started sometime in the past and is still happening now.
We use this tense to talk about situations that are temporarily happening.
Frequent phrases used with this meaning are at the moment / these days / for or during the next week / year / semester / etc.
We can also use the present continuous to describe actions that are in progress but won't be finished for a longer period of time. Note that we don't have to be doing the activity at this exact moment.
Sarah walks into the library and sees her friend. She walks over to speak to her:
Note: In these examples, the action is happening right now.
Sam and Joe are drinking coffee and chatting at a café:
Note: In this example, Joe is not reading the spy novel at this moment. He started the book some time ago and will continue reading it a little bit at a time during the next few weeks. He's at a café and the book is at his home on the table next to his bed).
Action Happening right now
Call me later, I'm studying right now.
Are you working late tonight?
I'm eating broccoli and potatoes.
An action in progress over longer time
I'm studying chemistry this semester.
Are you still working at McDonalds'?
My son's not eating enough vegetables.
We use the present continuous tense for actions that we're planning to do in the near future.
Note: With this usage, we are using the present tense to describe an event happening in the future.
We can use this tense to describe irritating habits—annoying things that someone is "always," "continually," or "constantly" doing.
We can also use the present continuous tense to describe things that are changing or slowly developing over time:
I recommend you also review the differences between the present simple and present continuous tenses.
If you need to review how to form the present continuous tense please check this page. I go over the positive and negative forms, questions, spelling and give lots of examples.