Present Continuous Tense (Progressive)  

What is the present continuous tense?

We create the present continuous tense by using the present participle (-ing form) of the verb after the present-tense form of the auxiliary verb be (which conjugates as is, am, or are).
Unlike the present simple tense, which is used to express things that are always the case or are at a fixed time in the future, we use the present continuous (also called the present progressive) tense to speak about actions that are currently happening, whether generally or at the exact moment of speech. It can also be used to describe actions or events that are planned for the future (but are not definitively fixed in time, such as a timetable).

Actions happening at the moment of speech

The most common occurrence of the present continuous is when someone or something is performing an action at the very moment being described. In this case, the object of the verb is usually in the presence of or very near to the speaker. For example:
  • “I am going home now.”
  • “He is crying because of the movie.”
  • “We are heading to the park.”
  • “It is raining outside.”

Actions happening currently, but not at the moment of speech

The present continuous can also indicate something that is currently happening but which is not at the exact moment of speech. It generally refers to something that the person or thing is currently engaged in doing that is taking place continuously over a longer period of time, but which is not (necessarily) permanent. For example:
  • “John is working in telemarketing.”
  • “She is running for president.”
  • “I am living in London.”

Actions or events planned for the future

Like the present simple tense, the present continuous can also describe future events. However, unlike the present simple, it describes that which someone is planning or expecting to do, as opposed to that which is at a fixed point in time in the future. The formation of the verb does not change to reflect this; rather, information from the rest of the sentence informs the future intention.
  • “She is running for president next year.”
  • “I am taking my driving test after the Christmas break.”
  • “We are watching a movie later.”

With adverbs

We can also add adverbs relating to time between be and the present participle to specify or clarify when or how frequently something happens or occurs.
  • “I am already leaving.” (I am leaving sooner than I expected.)
  • “She is still living next door.” (She continues to live next door, perhaps longer than was expected.)

The adverb always

There is also a special usage when the adverb always is used between be and the present participle. Rather than literally meaning that the action always happens (as you might expect), it instead means that that action very often happens. We use this as a means of adding hyperbolic emphasis to how frequently something happens or occurs, and it usually implies that the action or event is questionable, irritating, or undesirable to some degree. For example:
  • “My husband is always leaving dirty dishes in the sink!”
  • “The used car I bought is always breaking down.”
  • “You are always losing your phone!”

Negative sentences

A negative sentence in the present continuous describes what is not currently happening. We form these by adding the word not after the auxiliary verb be. For second-person, third-person, and first-person plural (but not first-person singular), be and not can also be contracted.
For example:
  • “I am not watching the movie.”
  • “He is not crying.”
  • “You aren’t leaving until the house is clean.”
  • “She isn’t going home for Thanksgiving this year.”
Not can also be replaced with the adverbial phrase no longer to indicate that someone or something was doing something, but that is not the case now. For instance:
  • “She is no longer living in New York.”

Interrogative sentences

Interrogative (question) sentences in the present continuous tense are formed by reversing the verb be and the subject. If adverbs are used to clarify or specify the time, they come before the main verb or at the end of the sentence.
  • Is she sleeping?”
  • Are you seeing this?”
  • Are they going home already?”
  • Is it still raining outside?”
The present continuous can also be used with the question words who, what, where when, why, and how:
  • When is she taking the exam?”
  • What are you watching?”
  • Why is he leaving?”
  • Who’s talking?”
  • How are they getting to the station?”

Negative interrogative sentences

Negative interrogative sentences also ask a question, but they imply that the speaker expects (or expected) something to be the case. They can be used to express surprise if something is no longer happening.
We form these by inverting be and the subject, and then adding the word not after the subject. Again, be and not can be contracted; if they are, the contraction comes before the subject. This can serve to make the sentence sound less formal and stuffy. And adverbs can still be used to specify or clarify time. For example:
  • Is she not painting anymore?”
  • “You want to play outside? Isn’t it raining?”
  • “Wait, aren’t they still dating?”
Like the negative sentence, no longer can be used instead of not in negative interrogative sentences. Just note that you do not use other adverbs in this case:
  • Are Tim and John no longer living together?”
  • Is it no longer raining outside?”
Negative interrogative sentences in the present continuous can also be used with question words, most commonly why and how. These typically express the speaker’s surprise or dismay that something is not the case:
  • Why is she not leaving today?”
  • How are you not watching the match on TV?”
  • Why aren’t we abandoning this foolish enterprise?”
  • “It’s the middle of December. How is it not snowing yet?”
  • “I just upgraded this computer, so why isn’t it working?”
  • “I’ve been practicing for hours. How am I not getting better at this?”
Note that we can use the question words who, when, and where in negative interrogative sentences, but, unlike why and how, these are most often used for rhetorical effect in response to another question. For instance:
  • Speaker A: “Where are you going in Europe this summer?”
  • Speaker B: “Where aren’t we going?” (Implies that the speaker is going many places.)
  • Speaker A: “Who all is coming to the party tonight?”
  • Speaker B: “Oh man, who isn’t coming?” (Implies that many people are coming to the party.)
  • Speaker A: “We’re having a party tonight. Do you want to come, or do you have to study?”
  • Speaker B: “You know me. When am I not studying?” (Implies that the speaker studies very often.)
However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t form literal negative questions with who, when, or where—it’s just less common. Here are a few examples showing when such sentences might be used:
  • “OK, I need one more person to cover the night shift tomorrow. Who isn’t working in the morning?”
  • “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your announcement. Where in the city did you say the tour group is not visiting?”
  • “What’s the best time to visit Seattle? When is it not raining there?”
(For more information about different types of sentences, go to the chapter on Sentences in the part of the guide on Syntax.)

1. Which auxiliary verb is used in the present continuous tense?

2. Which of the following sentences is in the present continuous tense?

3. In the present continuous tense, which of the following question words is most commonly used in negative interrogative sentences?

4. In which grammatical person (first person, second person, third person) is it not correct to contract “be” with “not”?

5. What kind of action is the following sentence describing?
“My brother William is always talking about his great political ambitions.”

6. Which of the following questions is not in the present continuous tense?

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