Tenses in Pairs, Part 1
Gooooood morning and welcome, once more, to Englisch Macht Spaß. Before we get started I just want to thank you all for your response to this series – on Facebook, Twitter and in the comments below, it has all been resoundingly positive. Don’t forget you are more than welcome to ask questions or suggest topics for future posts – this is a communal experience.
I hope you have all had splendid weeks and managed to do last week’s reading homework (a lovely little piece on Denglish). I also hope you’re sufficiently energised and focused for this week’s edition because you’re in for a wild ride.
This week, we’re looking at …
Present Simple & Present Continuous
Yaaaaay, tenses! Now, see how I have written it as a pair and not two separate tenses? Why? Read on!
By now, you most probably know what the tenses are individually and you probably know what happens to the verbs in these tenses. If you need a quick refresher, glance at the (printable) table below:
But knowing the names of the tenses and what the verbs do, in each tense, doesn’t necessarily help you use them the right way. Why? Because whenever you go to say something, you are probably flipping through several tense possibilities in your head, with no real boundaries – no signs pointing to the right tense. It’s like sitting a multiple choice exam and knowing it’s either A) or B) but not knowing why. For a lot of English learners, using tenses becomes about guess work – sort of like the gendered articles for those learning German!
What does help you use the tenses the right way? Comparing them with the other possibility and being able to see the differences between the usages.
Let’s take a closer look …
This week, we’re comparing Present Continuous and Present Simple. Present Continuous can boggle the mind of a learner not acquainted with the idea of a continuous tense. The incorrect use of both the Present Simple and Present Continuous tenses is probably one of the most common mistakes I see in my German students quite simply because German doesn’t have a continuous tense.
Whereas, in German, for example, you use the Present Simple for things you are doing now – Ich trinke Tee – in English, we use the Present Continuous for that – I am drinking tea. It would be so much easier to just have one tense for both temporary and permanent present actions, but then it wouldn’t be so much fun!
So if we don’t use the present simple for actions happening NOW, what do we use it for?
Present Simple is for repeated, habitual, usually permanent actions and general facts. Look:
- I come from Australia. Not I am coming from Australia.
- I speak English and terrible German. Not I am speaking.
- I am female. Not I am being female.
- I like coffee. Not I am liking coffee.
- I work in Berlin. Not I am working in Berlin. UNLESS … You are only working temporarily in Berlin and next week, perhaps you are working in London. Then you could say, ‘I am working in Berlin at the moment, but next week I’m working in London.
- I live in Spain. Not I am living in Spain. UNLESS … you are only living in Spain temporarily, then you can say ‘I am living in Spain at the moment.’
SIGNAL WORDS FOR PRESENT SIMPLE
We use adverbs of frequency with the Present Simple – words like:
CAN I USE THE PRESENT SIMPLE FOR THE FUTURE? YES!
You can use the Present Simple for the future if you are talking about scheduled events that occur at the same time all the time.
- The bus to Berlin leaves tomorrow at 8am.
- The movie starts tonight at 9pm.
Present Continuous is for temporary, current actions that have already started and are still happening at the time of speaking. These actions will likely end soon.
- I am reading a fantastic book at the moment.
- I am working on a big project for Mercedes.
- Can I take your plate? No thank you, I am still eating.
- What are you doing? (To ask an English speaker ‘what do you do’ is to ask them what their job is.)
- I’m fixing the car.
SIGNAL WORDS FOR PRESENT CONTINUOUS
- right now
- at the moment
CAN I USE THE PRESENT CONTINUOUS FOR THE FUTURE? YES!
You can use the Present Continuous to talk about the future if you are talking about something you have definitely arranged to do.
- I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow morning.
- She’s flying to Spain next week.
- They’re having a picnic this weekend.
Okay, okay, that looks pretty clear …
but got anything else for me?
Why yes, I do.
Check out these (printable) charts. They give you the form of the tense (what to do with the subjects and verbs) and also some helpful hints.
One more thing. It is really helpful to visualise your tenses by using timelines. Below, I’ve kicked you off with a timeline featuring Present Simple and Present Continuous. If you can, it’s a great idea to make a big, clear timeline with all the tenses marked on it.
That’s it for this week my friends, I think there’s enough there for you to chew on. Next week we’ll be looking at Past Simple and Present Perfect. Any questions? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org, Tweet me or leave a comment below.
If you want to go digging deeper, here are some great resources with exercises, on today’s topic:
And of course, catch up on the Englisch Macht Spaß series, if you haven’t already:
See you all next week! Happy English speaking!