In English, we use verb tenses to show when an action is happening. The present continuous tense is one such form, and this guide should show students some examples of what that looks like, how to form it, other kinds of tenses, and any exceptions or rules of which they should be aware. It is a handy resource for teachers, but students can reference it on their own as well. We will use simple, concrete examples to make sure that all students can follow what this verb form looks like.
Although this guide can be a good resource for any student, our focus is on elementary school students and those who might be learning English as a second language. Because we want this guide to be broad enough to appeal to any ESL student at the beginning levels of their mastery, we will do our best to keep the verbiage easy to understand for all age groups.
We will list further examples or exceptions in our next section, but we should go over the mechanics or rules for forming it first. You can use am, is, or are subjects to start forming the present continuous. Once you have your subject, you just need to pair it with a present participle. The present participle verb form ends in -ing suffixes. As you might expect, we use this participle to form actions that are happening now, just like we need to do with the present continuous. You can also invert this verb form to express the idea that something is not happening at this very moment.
Before we dive into present continuous examples, know that we also call it present progressive. If you see any other articles talking about this term, remember that they are referencing the continuous verb form that we are learning here today. As we mentioned in the introduction, the present continuous is something we’ve designed to talk about an action that is still ongoing in the present sense of time. However, that isn’t all that this form does. In some situations, we might use it to denote something that would take place in the very near future. Let’s look at both of these possibilities with a couple of examples.
If you see your roommate working with the clothes washer, you might think to yourself:
The roommate is engaged in the action of washing or cleaning the clothes at the present time when you see them. This is a simple way to understand present continuous verb forms. Because you cannot do your laundry now, you can use the same formation of the verb to express the opposite idea.
You don’t need to use it only for one person, however. Further, you don’t need to express a definite action with it. In either case, you can pluralize it by changing your subject. For example:
is a plural form that uses the same tense. Additionally, you might ask a question with it. If you are wondering about something, you might ask yourself:
This is a question, and you are not sure if the continuous action of the bathroom cleaning job is happening now. However, it is still the correct form, and we can use it to try to figure out which actions are happening or not happening.
The same rule applies even if you have no idea that anyone is performing any action at all. You may see a person doing something you cannot see or are not sure about, but you want to find out. In this case, you might ask:
This question still uses this same form to denote an action that takes place now, and you don’t even need to know what the action is in order to ask it.
There are a few other main ways we can use the present continuous tense. One of the other ways to use it is by expressing actions in progress that take a much longer time to complete. For example, someone might tell you that they are studying to become a marine biologist. This is yet another of the present continuous tense examples you might see in the real world. It tells you about an ongoing action that is happening in the present, but it is going to take this person a few years to get from start to finish.
Even though we call it the present continuous tense, you can also use it to talk about actions that will take place in the very near future, too. A colleague of yours might tell you:
This action is not something that is active now, but it will be in the very near future.
Yes, there are some things you need to remember about the present continuous tense, and this is particularly important when we are separating speech from writing. For example, it isn’t uncommon to hear someone say something along the lines of I am loving this chocolate cake. This is fine in informal, spoken speech, but it is not correct when we consider the mechanics of English. Abstract concepts like these are non-continuous, and you cannot mix them with continuous forms. It is better to say or write that you love this chocolate cake, for example. The present perfect, past, and past perfect are all verb forms that can take continuous forms, too.