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Present Tense

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Present Tense

The present tense is one of the three main verb tenses in the English language, alongside the past tense and the future tense. This explanation will introduce the present tense and its uses, define the four different types of the present tense, and provide plenty of examples.

What is the present tense?

The present tense is a grammatical tense primarily used to discuss actions and events occurring at the present time. However, these aren't its only functions.

The main functions of the present tense are:

  • Describing actions and events which happen in the present - e.g. I'm looking for my glasses, have you seen them?

  • For reoccurring or habitual actions/events - e.g. I normally go to the cafe on the river.

  • Connect past events with the present - e.g. I've seen that film before.

  • Telling jokes or retelling events - e.g. A man walks into a bar ...

  • Talking about the future - e.g. I'm seeing John next week.

  • Describing states - e.g. I live in Mexico.

Let's look at a few examples in detail.

A. Today is my birthday.

B. My Birthday is on the 25th of September.

C. I have been celebrating.

The examples above all use the present tense but for different reasons. Example A uses the present tense because it is describing an event that is happening in the present. On the other hand, example B uses the present tense because it is talking about a reoccurring event that happens every year. Example C describes an action that began in the past but continues in the present.

The present tense is divided into four aspects (sometimes named 'forms'), creating the present simple tense, the present continuous (or progressive) tense, the present perfect tense, and the present perfect continuous (or progressive) tense.

We will cover each of these tenses in more detail shortly, but first, let's look at some examples of present tense sentences.

Present tense Image of birthday cake StudySmarterToday is my birthday! - Pixabay

Present tense sentence examples

Here is a list of some present tense sentences.

  • Everyone is heading downstairs.

  • Emily takes piano lessons every Tuesday.

  • I am talking on the phone.

  • I go to France every year.

Types of present tense

Let's explore the different types of present tense a little further.

Each of the three main tenses (past, present, and future) is divided into four aspects. An aspect is a verb form concerned with time and indicates the completion, duration, or repetition of an action.

The four aspects are: simple, progressive (continuous), perfect, and perfect progressive (continuous).

Christmas is on the 25th of December

Here the present simple tense is used to show a repeated event.

She is writing.

Here the present continuous tense is used to show that the action is ongoing and not yet complete.

I have eaten already, thanks

The present perfect tense is used here to show that a past event (eating) has an effect on the present.

I have been working since 9 am.

Here the present perfect continuous tense is used to connect an event that started in the past, to the present. We can see that the action (working) is ongoing and not yet completed.

Here is a handy table outlining the four present tenses and how they are used:

Present simpleI write a letter.
Present progressive (continuous)I am writing a letter.
Present perfectI have written a letter.
Present perfect progressive (continuous)I have been writing a letter.

In the next section, we will outline each of these tenses and provide you with the formula for creating them. The next section will also give you some example sentences of the tenses in their positive, negative, and interrogative forms.

Present simple tense

The present simple tense is one of the most common and easy to understand tenses. It has two main uses: to discuss something that is happening in the present or to discuss something that happens regularly.

You can form the present simple tense by using this formula:

Subject + root form of the verb (+ s/es for third-person singular)

A. I'm sorry.

B. She is happy.

C. Amy goes swimming every day.

Examples A and B tell us about something that is happening in the present, whereas example 3 tells us about a recurring event.

PositiveI am happy.
NegativeI'm not happy.
InterrogativeAre you happy?

Present continuous (progressive) tense

We use the present continuous (progressive) tense to talk about actions happening at the time of speaking that haven't yet been completed. For example, 'I am learning about the present tense'.

We can also use the present progressive tense to discuss fixed future plans or arrangements. For example, 'We're going to Brighton next weekend'.

You can use this formula to form the present progressive (continuous) tense:

subject + verb 'to be' + base verb + ing (sometimes called the present participle)

A. They are eating at Nandos.

B. She is talking with her friends.

C. Next week, we are visiting our grandparents.

Notice how all of the verbs end with -ing. This helps us recognise that the present continuous tense is being used. In examples A and B, the verbs eating and talking show us that the action is ongoing and not yet completed. In example 3, the present continuous tense has been used to discuss a fixed future plan.


PositiveI am writing
NegativeI'm not writing
InterrogativeAre you writing?

There are some verbs that we cannot use in the progressive tense. These are named stative verbs. Stative verbs are usually for abstract concepts, such as feelings and senses, rather than actions. In this case, we would use the present simple verb form instead. For example, we say 'I believe you.' rather than 'I am believing you.'

Present perfect tense

The present perfect tense is used to connect an action or event that happened in the past with the present. The timing of the action or event is usually unspecified.

We often use the present perfect tense to talk about things that have happened in an unfinished time period (i.e. the day, the week, the year, a lifetime). For example, 'Today, I have eaten a burger and a salad.' The present perfect tense has been used here because the day is not yet over. Once the day is over, the tense changes to 'Yesterday, I ate a hamburger and a salad.' This is because the past tense is used for completed actions in the past.

We can also the present perfect to describe actions or events that have just finished. We do this by adding the words just, recently, or already. For example, 'I have just finished my lunch.'

To form the present perfect, you can use this formula:

Subject + have/has + past participle

A. I have written ten emails today.

B. He has been ill since Tuesday.

C. We have eaten curry before.

Notice how each sentence uses the past participle verb form (or verb form number 3, as it is sometimes called). In the example sentences, the part participle verbs are written, been, and eaten. We always use past participles when forming perfect tenses.


PositiveI have eaten
NegativeI haven't eaten
InterrogativeHave you eaten?

Present tense Image of man writing an email StudySmarterI've been writing emails all day! - Pixabay

Present perfect continuous (progressive) tense

This is the final present verb tense. The present perfect continuous tense (also known as present perfect progressive tense) shows us that something started in the past and is continuing into the present time.

To form the present perfect progressive tense, you can use this formula:

subject + has/have been + base verb + ing (present participle)

A. I have been reading my textbook for a week now.

B. I haven't been feeling great lately.

C. Ben has been arriving to work late recently.

All of the examples above tell us about actions that started in the past and are still ongoing. Look at example B, we know that the speaker has been feeling unwell recently and still feels unwell now.

It is common to use the words lately and recently when using the present perfect continuous tense.


PositiveI have been eating.
NegativeI haven't been eating
InterrogativeHave you been eating?

Remember how we mentioned stative verbs above? As this is a continuous tense, we must remember to think about stative verbs here as well. When using a verb that cannot be used in the continuous aspect, we use the present perfect tense instead. For example, we say 'He has owned a car since August' (present perfect tense), rather than 'He has been owning a car since August.'

Present perfect vs present perfect continuous

The difference between the present perfect (simple) and present perfect continuous can be a little tricky to understand. We use both of these verb forms to talk about actions or states that started in the past and have some connection to the present. However, there are a few key differences.

The present perfect usually focuses on the result of an action in some way, whereas the present perfect progressive focuses more on the action itself.

'I've cleaned the kitchen, it looks great! ' (present perfect tense)

Here the present perfect is used to focus on the result of the action, the clean kitchen.

'I've been cleaning the kitchen for hours! ' (present perfect continuous tense)

Here the present perfect progressive is used to focus on the duration of the action (cleaning).

The present perfect tense is also more commonly used to describe an action that is completed, while the present perfect continuous is used to talk about actions that are ongoing and may continue into the future.

'I've made your lunch.' (present perfect)

Here the present perfect tense is used because the action has been completed.

'I have been making your lunch since 11 am.' (present perfect continuous)

Here, the present perfect continuous is used because the action is ongoing.

Using the present tense to talk about the future

You may be surprised to hear that we almost always use the present tense to talk about the future. In fact, some grammarians argue that there is no 'future tense' in English, just ways of 'expressing the future'. This is because there is no unique way of adapting verbs to reflect the future (i.e. we don't use verb inflections). However, the future tense is now widely considered one of the three main verb tenses in English.

Using the present simple to talk about the future

We use the present simple to discuss events in the future that will definitely happen - either because they're facts or because there is a timetable/schedule.

A. The train arrives at 2 pm.

B. Emily has an appointment tomorrow.

Example A uses the present tense as the train arrives in accordance with a timetable, whereas example B uses the present tense because it is a fact that Emily has an appointment for tomorrow (note - whether or not Emily attends the appointment doesn't change the fact that it has been booked).

Using the present continuous tense to talk about the future

As previously mentioned, we use the present continuous to talk about fixed future plans.

A. We're going to France tomorrow.

B. I'm leaving at 1 pm.

Using auxiliary verbs to talk about the future

Auxiliary verbs are sometimes referred to as 'helping verbs' because they help modify the main verb. In this case, we use auxiliary verbs to help change the main verb into the future tense.

The main auxiliary verbs we use are will and (is/am/are) going to.

A. I eat. (present tense)

B. I'll eat later. (future tense)

See how the future tense has been created from the present tense by adding an auxiliary verb before the main verb (will).

Using the present tense to talk about the past

We often use the present tense when talking about things in the past. This is most common in storytelling, joke-telling and news reporting. Many authors will also use the present tense in their writing to immerse the reader in the 'now' of the story. We also use the present tense when reporting speech.

A. German leader resigns.

B. So, I met this woman and she says to me, 'Can I buy you a drink?'

C. In 1918 the war ends and an election takes place.

Present Tense - Key takeaways

  • The present tense is one of the three main verb tenses in English.

  • The present tense is used to discuss actions and events happening in the present, to discuss reoccurring events, to connect past events with the present, and to discuss the future and the past.
  • The present tense contains four aspects: present (simple), present continuous (or progressive), present perfect, and present perfect continuous (progressive).

  • The present tense is one of the most commonly used tenses in spoken English.

Frequently Asked Questions about Present Tense

The present perfect tense is used to show that something that happened or began in the past has a connection to the present.

The present tense is a grammatical tense primarily used to discuss actions and events occurring at the present time. However, it can also be used to discuss habitual and reoccurring actions, to describe current states, to connect the past with the present, to retell stories, and to discuss the future and the past.

The present tense is a grammatical tense primarily used to discuss actions and events occurring at the present time. Here are some examples: 

  • We are walking to the shop.
  • Everyone is eating dinner
  • Jim is outside. 
  • He has eaten.

These are all examples of the present tense.

The present tense means that something is said or written as it is happening. It is a current action that has not ended.

The four types of present tense are present (simple) tense, present continuous/progressive tense, present perfect tense, present perfect continuous/progressive tense. 

Final Present Tense Quiz

Question

What does the present tense show?

Show answer

Answer

A connection to the present.

Show question

Question

What are the three main tenses?

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Answer

Past, Present, Future.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of present tense?

  1. We walked a mile today.

  2. We have been walking a mile today.

  3. We will walk a mile today.

Show answer

Answer

B.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a present verb tense?

  1. Present continuous/progressive tense

  2. Present perfect past tense

  3. Present (simple) tense

Show answer

Answer

B.

Show question

Question

True or false: Present tense can be used in written texts.


Show answer

Answer

​True.

Show question

Question

 True or false: Present perfect tense is the most used in spoken language.


Show answer

Answer

 False, it’s actually present (simple) tense.

Show question

Question

What does the present perfect tense show?

Show answer

Answer

That something which happened in the past has a connection to the present.

Show question

Question

What does present (simple) tense show?

Show answer

Answer

That something is true, is habitual or reoccurring, that something will happen in the future.

Show question

Question

True or false: Present perfect continuous tense is similar to the present perfect tense?


Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is written in the present tense?

  1. We have talked before.

  2. We had talked before.

  3. We hadn’t talked before.

Show answer

Answer

A.

Show question

Question

True or false: Present tense is the most common tense to use in written language.


Show answer

Answer

False, it is common, but past tense is the most used.

Show question

Question

What can using present tense in a text help the reader to do?


Show answer

Answer

Immerse themselves in the text.

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Question

Which of the following best describes the present perfect continuous/progressive tense?

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Answer

It starts with has/have been and describes an event that started in the past and is continuing to happen.

Show question

Question

What is the difference between present perfect tense and present perfect continuous tense?


Show answer

Answer

Present perfect continuous tense follows a strict structure, whereas the present perfect tense just shows that something started in the past and is continuing to happen.

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Question

When is simple present tense most used?

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Answer

In spoken English.

Show question

Question

The present tense can be used to talk about the future, true or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Identify the tense:

I have been running since 2

Show answer

Answer

Present perfect continuous (progressive)

Show question

Question

Identify the tense:

I am married.


Show answer

Answer

Present simple

Show question

Question

Identify the tense:

She is working today.


Show answer

Answer

Present continuous (progressive)

Show question

Question

Identify the tense:

She has read that book.

Show answer

Answer

Present perfect

Show question

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