Learn English grammar: The present continuous

This article looks at the present continuous.  We use it to talk about something that is

happening at the time of speaking or

happening around the time of speaking

So what does the present continuous look like (it’s form) and when do we use it?

Present continuous form

It uses the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ and the main verb,for example, ‘work’ + ing. This form is used when writing or speaking in a formal situation. 

Subject                   be            infinitive + ing


I                               am                                         working

You                         are                                         working

He                           is                                           working

She                         is                                           working

It                              is                                           working

We                          are                                         working

They                       are                                         working


When speaking or writing to friends many people use contractions, as below.


I’m working

You’re working

He’s working

She’s working

It’s working

We’re working

They’re working


 Present Continuous use

We use it to talk about something that is happening at the time of speaking.


It is nine thirty and I am sitting in my garden and watching the sun go down.

The children are climbing trees for apples.

I’m listening to a really good play on the radio.  Come and hear it.

They are playing tennis at the moment. The other team is winning.


We also use the present continuous to talk about something that is happening around the time of speaking.

Peter is studying French and Japanese at University.

I’m reading a really good book at the moment.  It’s a historical novel about Cleopatra.

Jane’s learning Spanish.  She’s taking lessons with a Spanish teacher who lives nearby. She wants to move to Spain.

Mia and Siegfried have just moved here from Germany.  They are living with us at the moment until they can find somewhere to live.

Subject           be                                            not           infinitive + ing 

I                       am           (I’m)                       `                                       not                            working

You                 are          (You’re)                                                           not                            working

He                   is             (He’s)                                                             not                             working

She                 is             (She’s)                                                           not                             working

It                      is             (It’s)                                                               not                             working

We                  are          (We’re)                                                           not                             working

They               are          (They’re)                                                         not                             working


 Verbs that do not usually take the present continuous form are verbs of feeling, senses, emotions. These are called ‘stative verbs’.


Love Hate Like
Dislike Prefer Believe
Imagine smell Remember
Understand Want Recognize
Wish Hear See


Some of these verbs can be used with ‘ing’ but the verb takes on a different meaning.

I see what you mean. (understand)

I can see clearly now. (with my eyes)

I am seeing Peter tomorrow. (future use of ‘see’ to mean meet – I am meeting Peter)

I don’t think he is going to win. (This is my opinion)

What are you thinking about? (asking about someone’s thoughts at that moment in time)

What are you cooking?  Something smells good. (present simple use of smell as a fact)

What’s John doing? He’s smelling the wine before he tastes it. (an less common use of smell)

The verb ‘be’ when using in the continuous means ‘behaving or pretending’.

He is a teacher.

The children are being teachers today.  We have to pretend to be the students!

Stative verbs can sometimes become nouns.

His hearing is bad. He can’t hear much at all.

The feeling in her legs is coming back now, five months after the accident.


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