English grammar – Present continuous

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Form

am/is/are + present participle (verb + ing)

Meaning

  1. Present continuous is used to talk about something that is happening at the time of speaking. The action is not finished.
    • He is speaking to John.
    • What is she doing?
  2. Present continuous is used to talk about temporary situations.
    • I ‘m living in London at the moment.
    • Why is she moving house?
  3. Present continuous is used to talk about changing situations.
    • You’re getting taller and taller every day.
    • The weather‘s getting warmer.
  4. Present continuous is used to talk about repeated actions around the time of speaking.
    • I’m seeing Jane a lot these days.
  5. Present continuous is used to talk about future arrangements.
    • I’m meeting my father at the airport at 5 o’clock tomorrow.
    • We’re having lunch together at the weekend.
  6. Present continuous is used with words such as ALWAYS to talk about things that happen repeatedly (sometimes to say that something is irritating or annoying).
    • She‘s always complaining about how difficult her life is.
  7. When we are talking about how someone looks or feels, present continuous or present simple can be used.
    • How are you feeling? / How do you feel?
    • Jenny is looking really good today? / Jenny looks really good today.

Additional points

  1. Some verbs are not normally used with present continuous because these verbs are not normally action verbs, for example: believe, belong, depend, hate, know, like, love, mean, need, prefer, realise, suppose, want, understand.

    • They know each other very well – correct
    • They are knowing each other very well – incorrect

Related grammar points

Past Continuous
Present Simple
Tense and aspect


4 teaching ideas and comments

  1. Richard says:

    Students should know the present simple when you get on to the present continuous, so just start by asking about their daily routine. Once they’re comfortable with this, interrupt a stronger student who’s just said, for example, “I brush my teeth…” and ask him “Are you brushing your teeth now?”. Emphasize the “now”, and then accept just a “No” as an answer. Keep this going around the class and they’ll soon begin to get the idea about the difference. When you feel they’re ready, start using negative build-up:

    “Are you brushing your teeth now?”
    “No”
    “Are you sleeping now?”
    “No”
    “Are you eating an apple now?”
    “No”

    and then…

    “What are you doing now?”
    “I’m studying English.”

    With a lot of repetition and a little prompting, students will get comfortable with this, at which point you can start to introduce negatives and eventually questions. When they’re really comfortable, compare with present simple at the same time:

    “How often do you play tennis?”
    “I play tennis once a week”
    “Are you playing tennis now?”
    “No, I’m not playing tennis now”

  2. Hannah says:

    I find a game that I played in drama class works REALLY well. It’s called “What are you doing?” You start with one student who starts doing an action. Another student comes up to him and says, “What are you doing?” The student replies with a LIE, something that they are not doing. Then he sits down and the student who asked begins to do the action that the other student said. A different student comes up and says, “What are you doing?” This student says another action, and the person who asked has to start doing that action. And so on and so forth until all the students have had a turn.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Speaking activity – after I have explained the present continuous, I play a movie and I stop it every now and then and ask students what is happening.

  4. Elif says:

    I use flashcards. I don’t show the whole picture though. I half cover a card and ask students to try to guess what the person is doing…

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