Today I’ve decided to go back to basic grammar and talk about conjugating verbs. In a previous post we looked at the Simple Present and today we are going to continue along that line by learning how to use the Present Continuous Tense.
This tense is also known as the present progressive, but no matter which term you use this is a very important tense. It’s very easy to make and it’s the same for all verbs. We’ll also look at when it is used.
Now, if you can read and understand this article, it probably means that you already know how to use the Present Continuous. If this is the case, you can take this lesson as a review.
If, however, you want to tutor a friend or if you’re an EFL teacher and you want to use any or all of this lesson, please feel free to do so.
So, let’s jump right in and start learning how to do all of this.
Like I mentioned before, this is a very easy tense to form. However, in order to form it, we need to use an auxiliary or helping verb.
The helping verb needed is the verb ‘to be‘.
There is a very simple rule to follow when conjugating in the Present Continuous.
Here’s the formula:
So basically, we take the verb to be conjugated in the simple present together with the present participle of our main verb.
The present participle is formed by taking the infinitive of the main verb and adding ‘ing‘.
What does this mean?
It means that, if for example, we want to conjugate the verb ‘to eat‘, we take the infinitive which is ‘eat‘ and we add the ‘ing‘ which is the continuous form to obtain ‘eating‘. Also known as the present participle.
In order to clarify this, we are going to go through the different types of sentences using examples to see exactly how this works.
If we want to conjugate any verb and use it in an affirmative sentence there is also a simple formula to follow.
SUBJECT + AM/IS/ARE + VERB in CONTINUOUS FORM + COMPLETING PHRASE
But before we actually look at full sentences, let’s see how to conjugate some verbs in both the long form and the contracted forms using the personal pronouns.
- I am sleeping
- you are sleeping
- he is sleeping
- she is sleeping
- it is sleeping
- we are sleeping
- they are sleeping
- I‘m sleeping
- you‘re sleeping
- he‘s sleeping
- she‘s sleeping
- it‘s sleeping
- we‘re sleeping
- they‘re sleeping
- I am playing
- you are playing
- he is playing
- she is playing
- it is playing
- we are playing
- they are playing
- I‘m playing
- you‘re playing
- he‘s playing
- she‘s playing
- it‘s playing
- we‘re playing
- they‘re playing
As you can see, it’s very easy to conjugate in the present continuous.
Let’s now look at two sentences.
- Mary is sleeping right now, so please don’t wake her.
- The dog is playing in the park with Karen.
So, in both of these sentences, we can see the formula mentioned above. We start with our subject, Mary in the first sentence, and the dog in the second, followed by the verb in the present continuous followed by a completing phrase.
Negative sentences follow the same pattern but in order for them to be negative, we have to, of course, add the negative word ‘not‘.
- I am not sleeping
- you are not sleeping
- he is not sleeping
- she is not sleeping
- it is not sleeping
- we are not sleeping
- they are not sleeping
Contracted Form 1
- I‘m not sleeping
- you‘re not sleeping
- he‘s not sleeping
- she‘s not sleeping
- it‘s not sleeping
- we‘re not sleeping
- they‘re not sleeping
Contracted Form 2
- I‘m not sleeping
- you aren’t sleeping
- he isn’t sleeping
- she isn’t sleeping
- it isn’t sleeping
- we aren’t sleeping
- they aren’t sleeping
- I am not playing
- you are not playing
- he is not playing
- she is not playing
- it is not playing
- we are not playing
- they are not playing
Contracted Form 1
- I‘m not playing
- you‘re not playing
- he‘s not playing
- she‘s not playing
- it‘s not playing
- we‘re not playing
- they‘re not playing
Contracted Form 2
- I‘m not playing
- you aren’t playing
- he isn’t playing
- she isn’t playing
- it isn’t playing
- we aren’t playing
- they aren’t playing
I’m sure you realized that I included two contracted forms. This is so because there are two forms used. Actually, the more traditional, British form is form 2. The more modern, used by most North Americans is form 1. But either one of the two contracted forms can be used and in fact, are used interchangeably.
Regarding the long form, it’s not really used that much in modern English and certainly not in spoken English.
Here are example sentences:
- Mary‘s not sleeping, so you can go right in.
- The dog isn’t playing with the ball.
- The dog‘s not playing in the park.
I have included both possible contracted forms in the above sample sentences. You can also see that the sentences follow the formula mentioned before, subject + verb in the (negative) continuous form + completing phrase.
Questions are a bit different although they are easy as well. In this case, we reverse the position of the subject and the auxiliary verb.
Here’s the formula for basic yes/no questions:
AUX. VERB “BE” + SUBJECT + VERB-ING + COMPLETING PHRASE
Let’s conjugate using pronouns.
- Am I sleeping?
- Are you sleeping?
- Is he sleeping?
- Is she sleeping?
- Is it sleeping?
- Are we sleeping?
- Are they sleeping?
- Am I playing?
- Are you playing?
- Is he playing?
- Is she playing?
- Is it playing?
- Are we playing?
- Are they playing?
- Are they sleeping in the living room?
- Are you playing tennis today?
- Why am I sleeping?
- Why are you sleeping?
- Where is he sleeping?
- Where is she sleeping?
- Why is it sleeping?
- Where are we sleeping?
- Why are they sleeping?
- Why am I playing?
- Where are you playing?
- When is he playing?
- What is she playing?
- Why is it playing?
- Where are we playing?
- What are they playing?
- Why are they sleeping on the floor?
- Where are we playing tennis today?
- Why is the dog playing with the ball?
- Why is Karen sleeping on the floor?
As you can see in all of the examples above, when we form a question, we need to change the position of the subject of the sentence. We start off by using the Auxiliary verb ‘be‘ conjugated in the simple present, then we add our subject which could be a pronoun or a noun, then we have the present participle which is the main verb in the ‘ing‘ form.
If we are formulating more complex questions such as the so-called w5 and how questions, all we need to do is to add the question word at the beginning of the sentence.
Just to refresh our memories the w5 question words are: who, what, when, where, why and how.
One more thing to keep in mind is that when formulating questions we don’t use the contracted forms of the verbs.
Spelling the Present Participle in the Present Continuous Tense
As we‘ve already mentioned, we form the present participle by adding ‘ing‘ to the base verb which is the verb in the infinitive. Normally and following the rule we looked at before, there are no spelling changes before adding the ending. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
If the base verb ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant, with the exception of w, x, and y, we need to double the last consonant before adding ‘ing‘.
This is true for one, two or more syllable verbs as long as the stress is on the last syllable.
- job – jogging
- sit – sitting
- run – running
- admit – admitting
- prefer – preferring
This exception, however, does not apply if the stress in not on the last syllable
Two or more syllable verbs
- answer – answering
- offer – offering
- listen – listening
If the verb follows the rule and ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant but the ending consonant is either w, x or y, we simply add the ‘ing‘ ending without doubling the last consonant.
- allow – allowing
- convey – conveying
When the base verb ends in ‘ie‘, once again the word needs to undergo a small spelling change. In this case, the ‘ie‘ is replaced by a ‘y‘.
- lie –lying
- die –dying
- tie –tying
- try — trying
If the verb ends in a single silent ‘e‘, we drop the ‘e‘ and then add ‘ing‘.
- come – coming
- hope – hoping
- write – writing
If the final ‘e‘ is not silent, or if the verb ends in ‘ee‘, we leave it as is and add the ‘ing‘ ending.
- be – being
- see – seeing
- agree – agreeing
- flee – fleeing
In the case of a verb ending in ‘c‘, we add a ‘k‘ before adding the ‘ing‘.
- Picnic – picnicking
The final exception deals with verbs ending in ‘l‘.
There is a difference in spelling between British and American English when forming the present participle for verbs ending in ‘l’.
In British English, every time you have one ‘l‘ at the end of a verb regardless of which syllable has the stress, the ‘l‘ is always doubled before adding ‘ing‘.
- travel – travelling
In American English, this rule does not apply, thus travel becomes traveling.
It’s important to note that British and American spelling rules differ when dealing with a verb that ends in a single vowel + single l. As I mentioned above in British English spelling, the ‘l‘ is always doubled before the ending. In American spelling, verbs ending in ‘l‘ follow the same rules as other verbs. That is to say that the ‘l’ is doubled only if the stress is on the final syllable.
In the following examples, the stressed syllables are in bold type.
Infinitive American Spelling British Spelling
signal signaling signalling
travel traveling travelling
In these examples, the stress is at the end so the spelling will be the same for Americans and British.
Using the Present Continuous
1. The Present Continuous is used when we are talking about a continuous action taking place at the moment. The action usually lasts for a short while.
- He’s eating dinner now.
2. It can also be used for temporary situations that might not be happening at the moment.
- Mary is working as a waitress until she gets her first modeling job.
- He’s staying in Italy for two weeks.
3. It can be used for new habits that are temporary. Commonly used with expressions such as at the moment, right now, etc.
- He’s eating right now so he can’t go out and play.
4. It can be used to talk about arranged future events when referring to plans we’ve already made and are pretty sure that will happen.
She’s leaving work at 8 p.m.
This brings us to the end of this article about the present continuous tense. If you are an English learner, I hope it’s now clear how the tense is formed and used. If you are tutoring someone, I hope you find this article helpful in teaching.
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Thanks for reading!