When to use the Present Simple and Present Continuous Tenses

Understanding when to use the present simple and present continuous tenses can be confusing for learners. Here are some examples to help you better understand the differences.

[Note: Click here to learn how to form the present continuous and present simple tenses.]

Present Simple

General Truths & Facts

We use the present simple to talk about things that are generally true or to state facts.

  • It snows in the Alps.
  • My hair is blonde.
  • Two plus two equals four.
  • The earth is round.

Mostly Permanent Situations

Present Continuous

Actions Happening Now

We use the present continuous to talk about things that are happening at this moment.

  • It's snowing outside.
  • I'm finishing dinner now.
  • Is someone helping you yet?
  • The kids are waiting for the bus.

Temporary Actions that are Happening Now

We use present simple for situations that are mostly permanent, for jobs or hobbies and things that always happen.

  • I live in New York
  • Sally studies at Oxford University.
  • John works at a law firm.
  • My brother plays football.

We use present continuous tense to talk about situations that are temporarily happening.

  • I'm living in New York this summer.
  • He's studying at Oxford this semester.
  • I am working from home today because my daughter's sick.

Habits / Describing Frequency of Actions

Describing Irritating or Annoying Habits

Use present simple to talk about routines and habits (how frequently we do or don't do things - e.g., every day, usually on Tuesdays, often, never, sometimes).

  • We go to church every Sunday.
  • Sarah plays the piano in the afternoon.
  • Our baby cries all night.
  • My son watches cartoons almost every day.

Use present continuous to talk about habits that are annoying and bother us. ("always" "constantly," "continuously," and "continually").

  • My dad is always complaining.
  • Ugh! My sister's constantly banging on the piano.
  • Are you using my computer again?
  • Why are you still talking like a baby at your age?

Actions Set by a Timetable or Schedule

Definite Plan for Near Future

Use the present simple for actions and events that are set by a timetable (often something that is set by an organization). This means we can use the present tense to describe something in the future.

  • Our flight leaves at 5 PM.
  • When does the next bus depart?
  • The movie starts at 1 PM and 4 PM.
  • The bank closes on holidays.

We use the present continuous tense for actions that we're planning to do in the near future. This means we can use the present tense to describe something in the future.

  • We are flying to Paris on Friday.
  • Is this bus leaving soon?
  • She's going to the movies at 4 PM
  • They're closing the bank early tomorrow for construction.

Certain Verbs Describing a Present State

Don't Use Stative Verbs in Present Continuous

Certain verbs are used to express opinions, states, feelings and emotions (not actions).

Common stative verbs include: be, belong, seem, realize, think, believe, understand, like, love, hate, hear, smell, see, think, understand, want, wish

We do use the simple present with verbs that describe states, opinions, feelings and emotions.

  • Do you believe in Santa Claus?
  • I love dogs.
  • Why don't you like cats.
  • Your car needs repairs.
  • My friend knows Britney Spears.
  • Do you understand Spanish?

We do not use stative verbs with the present continuous (unless they express a dynamic meaning).

  • NOT:  Are you believing in Santa?
  • NOT:  I'm loving dogs.
  • NOT:  Why aren't you liking cats?
  • NOT:  Your car is needing repairs.
  • NOT:  My friend is knowing Britney.
  • NOT:  Are you understanding Spanish.

I hope this has been helpful in showing the main differences between the present simple and present continuous tenses.

How to make the present simple and present continuous tenses

If you need to you can review how to make the present simple and present continuous tense. I go over the positive and negative forms, questions, spelling and give lots of examples.

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