What is present tense? It’s such an easy question for all English learners, as this form of tense is the most basic part of grammar!
But it might be a stranger to newcomers. Even if you have a great command of English, chances are that you sometimes make mistakes, as we humans seem to look down on simple things.
Either way, we got your back! This article covers all you need to know about this tense. You’ll learn from the simplest lesson, like the meaning and usage of present tense or common mistakes when using it.
All You Need To Know About Present Tense
Present Tense Definition
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, present tense is used to express the current action at the moment of speaking, schedule, routines, and facts. Likewise, the authors of Oxford Learner’s Dictionary define the present tense as the form of verbs that present a happening activity.
When To Use It?
When you need to describe a happening event, a routine or habit, a schedule, or state the general facts, present tense is what you’ll apply. Types of present tense are used in different situations for different meanings. Also, these tenses can be combined in a sentence for complex actions.
Present Tense Signal Words
Below are some words to tell what tense you should use. For present tense, adverbs of frequency are the signal words:
- Seldom/hardly ever/scarcely/barely
Other expressions of time include, such as but are not limited to:
- Every morning
- Every day
- Every month
- Every Tuesday
- On weekdays
Types Of Present Tense And Examples
There are 4 types:
- Present Simple
- Present Continuous
- Present Perfect
- Present Perfect Continuous
This part breaks down each category and provides present tense examples with detailed explanations.
- Present simple describes general, regular activities in daily life. For example:
- I go to school.
- She walks the dog.
- Andy sings.
- The fish swims.
- Or, you can use this form of tense to talk about schedule or habit.
- The concert starts at 6:00 PM.
- The train arrives every 15 minutes.
- She gets up at 5 every morning.
- Scientific facts or truths are also uses of this tense. For instance:
- The Earth orbits around the Sun.
- A year has 365 or 366 days.
- A day has 24 hours.
Rules of present simple tense are what all beginners need to start with. They are the easiest yet the most fundamental part to further form other types of present tense. Depending on the subject (singular or plural), the simple present tense can be created with the root form or by adding “s” or “es”.
These signal words are the same as those of the general present tense we have mentioned in part 1.
So let’s start with the formula of simple present tense. From that, you can easily understand its rule and structure in a sentence.
|Subject + Verb(e/es) + Object|
- She loves dogs.
- I go to school by bus.
- The show starts at 9AM.
- Water freezes at 0 degree Celsius.
|Subject + does/do not Verb(e/es) + Object|
- She does not love dogs.
- I do not go to school by bus.
- The show does not start at 9AM.
|Do/Does + (not) + Subject + Verb + Object?|
- Does she love dogs?
- Do you go to school by bus?
- Does the show start at 9AM?
- Does water freeze at 0 degree Celsius?
- You use the present continuous tense to depict an event that is happening at the time of saying.
- My sister is watching a fashion show now.
- The tense is also meant for ongoing actions or an action which is different from normal routine.
- She usually wears skirts to work. It’s strange that she is wearing trousers today! (she never wears skirts to work, but today she does!)
- In some situations, this present tense appears in complaintive sentences. You can turn to it to complain about something that happens too frequently. Remember to put adverbs of frequency (always, usually) in the sentence.
- Mike is always coming late.
- George is always bragging about how much money he earns.
- When mixing with present simple, present continuous portrays a happening action which is interrupted by another action (described by present simple).
- She is taking a bath, and the bell rings.
- His mother comes when he is studying upstairs.
- Now/Right now
- At the moment
- At present
- At this time
|Subject + am/is/are + V-ing + Object|
- Sarah is finding her phone.
- I am hanging out with friends.
- We are cleaning the classroom.
- He is talking on the phone.
|Subject + am/is/are not + V-ing + Object|
- Sarah is not finding her phone.
- I am not hanging out with friends.
- We are not cleaning the classroom.
- He is not talking on the phone.
|Am/Is/Are + (not) + Subject + V-ing + Object?|
- Is Sarah finding her phone?
- Are you hanging out with friends?
- Are they cleaning the classroom?
- Isn’t he talking on the phone?
Without a doubt, present perfect is the hardest tense in English. This is because non-English speakers don’t have this concept in their native language. That’s why they find it difficult to understand the tense usage and rules.
- The present perfect tense appears to show an action in the past that is not yet complete.
- I have written this book for 2 years, and it is about to be done.
- Describe a completed event, but it bears an impact on the sentence’s subject or object at the present.
- He has broken his arm since last week. (His arm is still broken now)
- Present an action taking place at an undetermined time or a repeated action in the past.
- I have seen you before. (but I don’t remember exactly when)
- Laura has been to New York 3 times. (a repeated action)
- Since + a point in time
- For + a period of time
- Already (affirmative)
- Yet (negative)
- Once, twice, three times, four times, etc,
- So far
- Up to now
- Until now
|Subject + has/have + V(ed/past participle) + Object|
- Phillip has traveled to France before.
- I have learned Spanish since high school.
- The students have written their answers already.
- Peter has worked in Mexico since he graduated.
|Subject + has/have not + V(ed/past participle) + Object|
- Phillip has not traveled to France before.
- I have not learned Spanish since high school.
- The students have not written their answers yet.
- Peter has not worked in Mexico since he graduated.
|Have/Has + (not) + Subject + V(ed/past participle) + Object?|
- Has Phillip traveled to France before?
- Have you learned Spanish since high school?
- Have the students written their answers yet?
- Has Peter worked in Mexico since he graduated?
Present Perfect Continuous
- The present perfect continuous tense, or present perfect progressive tense, indicates that something began in the past and is still going on now. The Verb-ing in the present perfect continuous tense shows that the action had been ongoing steadily for a considerable amount of time.
You might find the present perfect and present perfect continuous tense similar and confusing, but don’t worry; we will draw the line between them later.
Keep in mind that the word “have been” or “has been” means that the activity is still ongoing. For instance:
- We have been waiting for you for 45 minutes!
- I have been reading the book for three hours.
- Mauve has been finding her blue dress since morning.
- In some situations, people can use the present perfect continuous for temporary action. Example:
- Barney usually goes to the gym on Green Street, but it’s closed for repairs now so he has been going to the one in Star mall.
- Since + a point in time
- For + a period of time
- All + time word (day, night, week, etc.)
- The whole + time word (day, night, week, etc.)
Subject + has/have + been + V-ing + Object
- Susan has been working as the CEO for 5 years.
- Mark has been living in Korea since 2010.
- We have been cleaning the street all day.
|Subject + has/have not + been + V-ing + Object|
- Susan has not been working as the CEO for 5 years.
- Mark has not been living in Korea since 2010.
- We have not been cleaning the street all day.
|Have/Has + (not) + Subject + been + V-ing + Object?|
- Has Susan been working as the CEO for 5 years?
- Has Mark been living in Korea for 5 years?
- Have they been cleaning the street all day?
Common Mistakes When Using Present Tenses
One of the most typical mistakes when using the simple present form is verb conjugation. Most new learners are likely to forget to add “s” or “es” for 3rd person singular subjects (he, she, it). So you need to be careful when using it, even the simplest form of tense can cause you to make mistakes.
- Tina brushes her teeth twice a day.
- Not: Tina brush her teeth twice a day.
For facts and repeated events, we don’t use this form of tense. Although it’s a basic thing, not everyone is aware of that.
When complaining about something, many people forget to add adverbs of frequency (always, etc.) before the Verb-ing. This will affect the tone of the speaker, leading to grammatical error and even miscommunication.
- You are always throwing the clothes everywhere. (People complain about your bad habit)
- Not: You are throwing the clothes everywhere. (At the moment, you’re throwing the clothes. But you don’t do this all the time.)
In the present perfect form, verb conjugation is even more difficult as learners need to remember the past participle verb. For instance, “eat” becomes “eaten”, “break” becomes “broken”.
What’s more, there are some irregular verbs, such as “put”, “set”, that English learners need to learn by heart.
It’s important to learn the root form of verbs and their past participle versions. This helps you avoid grammatical mistakes and even improve your English usage.
Present Perfect Continuous
When a verb refers to an activity that is finished at one particular point in time, such as “start”, “stop”, or “finish”, you’ll need to avoid the present perfect continuous form. This is one of the most popular mistakes that many speakers and learners usually make when they aren’t aware of the context and tense.
- Has the show started already?
- Not: Has the show been starting already?
Like present continuous, present perfect continuous can’t be used with special verbs like sense, emotions, perception, etc.
- Has she heard the news?
- Not: Has she been hearing the news?
Most Confusing Tenses with Proper Usages
Present Simple or Present Continuous?
Both forms describe ongoing actions, so when to use these present tenses and how to use them correctly? Remember that the present simple tense is the one to go for when mentioning a fact, truth, habits, or unchanged situation, while the other is not.
There are also some verbs which can’t be used in Continuous (Progressive) tense form, such as:
- Verbs of emotions: wish, desire, like, love, hate, want, hope, etc.
- Verbs of thoughts: think, suppose, believe, agree, disagree, understand, know, etc.
- Verbs of sense: smell, taste, hear, feel, see, touch, etc.
- Verbs of perception: recognize, notice, perceive, imagine, remember, etc.
- Verbs of appearance: appear, seem, look, etc.
- Verbs of possession: own, possess, belong, contain, consist, etc.
All you need to do is keep their base form when using these special verbs. Here are some examples of these verb usage:
- This tiramisu is smelling good. → This tiramisu smells good.
- I am thinking you are right. → I think you are right.
- Diane is looking gorgeous in the red dress. → Diane looks gorgeous in the red dress.
On the other hand, in some cases, you can use the above verbs in Progressive form with a change of meaning (indicating a physical action).
- I am feeling well this morning. (feel physically)
- He is seeing his relatives tonight. (see means visit)
- Cindy is looking at the strange figure on the street. (look means stare)
Present Perfect or Simple Past?
Present perfect form focuses on the completion of the action (either in the past or the present) and its effects on the current subject/object. Meanwhile, simple past tense only indicates actions completed in the past and have no relation in the present context.
- I swept the house yesterday. (in the past, no present context)
- I’ve just swept the house, don’t let the kids scatter the snack. (present context)
Present Perfect Or Present Perfect Continuous?
We use both tenses to discuss previous events or conditions that are still relevant to the present. Because of this, many people are confused about telling time apart.
However, there are some differences between these two tenses.
While present perfect focuses on the activity’s result, present perfect continuous cares more about the activity. For example:
- You’ve cleaned your bedroom! It looks neat! (the result is the neat bedroom)
- She’s been gardening. The weather’s so lovely out there. (gardening because of the nice weather)
Present perfect answers “how many” questions, whereas present perfect continuous prefers “how long”.
- He has read 15 books this summer.
- Kathy has been reading that book all day.
Besides, present perfect describes a finished action (having an impact on the present), but the action in present perfect continuous is likely to continue. For instance:
- I’ve written essays, and one of them now receives an A. (finish writing – the result at the present)
- I’ve been writing essays. (not done yet)
Also, we use present perfect continuous when we can see proof of recent actions.
- The flowers are wet. Has it been raining all day?
- I know, I look quite pale now. I’ve been running for hours!
When discussing ongoing EVENTS or STATES, the present perfect is frequently used with the words “for”, “since”.
- How long have Duke and Clara known each other? (“know” is not an action verb, although Duke and Clara still know each other now)
- They’ve known each other since they were kids.
With the same signal words, however, present perfect continuous presents ongoing, repeated ACTIONS.
- How long has Alex been playing football? (they are still playing now, and “play” is an action)
- He has been playing football every Saturday afternoon for years.
Present Continuous Or Simple Future?
Most new English learners find the present continuous and future simple similar. This leads to common grammatical mistakes when speaking and writing.
The two tenses differ due to the length of the respective time periods. Present continuous (present progressive) refers to current acts and events, predictions with evidence, or near-future plans. Meanwhile, future simple form relates to future actions and events, uncertain predictions, or spontaneous promises.
- She will turn up on time for tomorrow’s meeting. (We predict that she will come to the appointment on time)
- Not: She is going to turn up on time for tomorrow’s meeting. (We can’t be 100% sure whether she will come to the meeting timely or not)
- I am meeting Jacob at 7 o’clock. (We describe an upcoming plan or event)
- Not: I will meet Jacob at 7 o’clock. (We can’t use “will” to talk about near future plans)
- Wait a second. I will take the order. (This decision is made on the spot)
- Wait a second. I am going to take the order. (This action is being done at present)
Time for some exercise! It’s best to revise your knowledge with a little practice.
- Water _________________ (boil) at 100 degrees Celsius.
- Clara always _________________ (get up) at 6 in the morning because she _________________ (need) to catch the bus for school.
- He usually _________________ (drink) coffee, but today he _________________ (drink) tea.
- I am sorry I can’t hear what you _________________ (say) because everyone _________________ (talk) so loudly.
- That dress _________________ (fit) you perfectly. You _________________ (look) great.
- Do you want to drink something? I _________________ (go out).
- Look at those heavy gray clouds. It _________________ (rain).
- I _________________ (be) to many countries in Europe, but I _________________ (never visit) Poland.
- Anne _________________ (not eat) any meat since she was six.
- My aunt _________________ (live) in the United States for over a decade.
- The authorities _________________ (work) on a new set of guidelines for ages.
- Billy is a great journalist. His newspaper _________________ (just offer) him an editing job.
- Josh is so lazy. He never _________________ (try) to help his mother do the chores.
- Our team is in Berlin this week. We _________________ (take) part in a contest.
- Can you help me, please? I _________________ (look) for Dr.Carlos’s office.
Answers For Exercise
Great job! Check the answers to see if you’ve grasped the concept of present tense!
- boils (present simple)
- gets up / needs (present simple)
- drinks / drinks (present simple)
- are saying / is talking (present continuous
- fits / look (present simple)
- am going out (present continuous)
- is going to rain (present continuous for a prediction with a proof)
- have been / have never visited (present perfect)
- has not eaten (present perfect)
- has been living (present perfect continuous)
- have been working (present perfect continuous)
- has just offered (present perfect)
- tries (present simple)
- are taking (present continuous)
- am looking (present continuous)
Overall, present tenses in English seem easy, yet not as simple as you may think! Hope that this article has provided you with some helpful tips to avoid further mistakes when using this tense.
Practice makes perfect. Remember to do more exercise after reading the theory. Your English proficiency will improve in leaps and bounds!
If you have some advice or tips to prevent grammatical errors, feel free to share them in the comment section below!