Different uses of the Present Simple and the Present Continuous
Use of the present continuous (I am doing).
The present continuous is used to express an action or a state that is happening at the time of speaking. The action is not finished.
e.g. I'm currently working a research project.
Use of the present simple (I do)
The present simple is used to express things in general or things that happen as habits.e.g. I work in an office
Present Continuous: when to use it (with examples)
We can see that this action is specific to the present. Last week I had a different project. Next week I will have another. We therefore use the present continuous for actions that are happening now or around now and temporary actions.
• You are studying English. (now or around now)
• They travelling to Brighton. (now)
• I'm reading a good book at the moment. (around now)
• She is working in shop during the school holidays. (temporary)
Present Simple: when to use it (with examples)
We can see in this example that it is a repeated action. Monday to Friday (and unfortunately sometimes Saturday), week in week out, I work in an office.
We therefore use the present simple for actions that happen regularly, facts or states. It has a sense of always being true or valid.
• Iron melts at 1538°C. (fact)
• What do you do? (job; everyday)
• They live in Perth. (permanent)
• My brother has a sports car. (possession)
Present Simple vs Present Continuous: State verbs and action verbs
There are some verbs that we never or rarely use in the present continuous form (also true for the other tenses i.e. past, present perfect, future, etc.). These don't describe actions but describe situations where there is no change (i.e. states). They are called state verbs.
For example the verbs understand and love do not describe actions. It is incorrect to say 'I am understanding you' or 'She is loving skiing'. You must say 'I understand you' or 'She loves skiing'.
State verbs expressing opinions
The following verbs that express thoughts or opinion usually used only in the present simple:
The verb 'think' can be used to describe an action or a state.
- He thinks you are right. (opinion = state)
- They are thinking about possible solutions. (mental activity = action)
State verbs expression possession or fixed ideas
The following verbs, which express possession or fixed ideas, are found mainly in the present simple:
'have' can be used to describe a state:
- They have two gerbils and a cat. (possession)
or it can describe an action:
- We are having a good time. (activity)
'weigh' can describe a fact:
- The new iPod weighs 22g.
or it can describe an action:
- The tailor is measuring the gentlemen for his new suit.
State verbs expressing emotions
The verbs that express emotions also fall into the category:
Before anyone asks... Yes, the McDonalds slogan "I'm loving it" is grammatically incorrect.
State verbs expression perceptions and senses
Verbs that describe perceptions and senses also usually are used in the simple form only:
Some of these verbs can be used in the active sense.
For example taste.
- The soup tastes good.
- The chef is tasting the soup to see if it needs more salt adding.
State verbs: Feel and look
You can use the present simple or continuous when you state how somebody feels or looks now:
- How do you feel now? or How are you feeling now?
- You look well today. or You are looking well today.