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Present Simple vs Present Progressive Tense

Present Simple vs Present Progressive Tense

Most of the time, it’s quite obvious when to use the present simple tense and when the present progressive tense. But now and then, you might find yourself wondering – what are the actual rules that tell us which tense to use? How do I know that it’s right to say “I work in an office”, but “I am working outside at the moment”? It depends on the context and choosing the right tense can be difficult sometimes, especially for people who learnt English as a second language. So here’s a quick overview …

Present Simple – use it for:

  • Things that happen regularly or repeatedly (e.g. for timetables: “The train leaves at 4 pm.”)
  • tasks that are performed regularly or repeatedly
  • character traits, such as “I like music.” or “I am a good dancer.”
  • short-term actions which interrupt long-term actions (“I am having a shower, when the doorbell rings.”)
  • general facts, such as “The sun rises in the east.”
  • keywords: every day, sometimes, always, never, often, usually, …

Present Progressive – use it for:

  • actions that are happening right now (that take a longer time)
  • talking about the future (“I am going for a walk.” or “I am staying with my sister next week.”)
  • long-term actions which are interrupted by short-term events or actions
  • keywords: now, tomorrow, in a few days, soon, at the moment, …

It can get complicated when writing sentences that use both tenses (such as this one), but it might help to think about each verb individually – is it describing an activity, or a state or trait? Long-term or short-term? Is one activity interrupting another?

I do hope this short summary is helpful to you, and would love to know if I forgot anything or if you have any questions.

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