Comparison present simple vs. present continuous

(Difference of the simple and continuous form of the present)

Table of contents – comparison present simple & present progressive

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Differences present simple vs present continuous
  2. Signal words present simple and present continuous
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What differences are there for the present simple and the present continuous?

Both the present simple and the present continuous are ways to express the present in the English language. Although some other languages do make the distinction between simple and continuous forms, too, others may not. In that case, learners of English with such native languages may find the following explanation useful as the differentiation is a crucial point in order to understand the English tense system. It is usually not possible to exchange one form with the other one without changing the meaning. In detail:

Comparison with peculiarities

Present simple Present continuous/progressive
  • Verb in the base form (infinitive: read, see, want)
  • Attention: An ‘s’ is added at the end of the verb if ‘he, she, it’ is used (reads, sees, wants)
  • Modal verbs never change their form (may, will, might, should)
  • do/does’ is required in most questions and negative sentences
  • A present form of ‘to be’ (am, is, are) in combination with the main verb (which always ends in ‘-ing’: reading, eating …)
  • Merely ‘not’ is required for negative sentences:
    • “They are not eating.”
  • In most cases it is used for general statements that are not processes:
    • “The world is round.”
      or
    • “Apples taste good.”
  • Frequently used with verbs that express states (‘smell, taste, like’ etc.)
  • Rare use of the ing-form for characteristics that are only valid temporarily as for example:
    • “He’s being very selfish today.”
  • For regular actions like hobbies for example:
    • “Martha reads a lot.”
      or
    • “Nick plays baseball every Friday.”
  • For processes and actions that are currently ongoing:
    • “Martha is reading her favorite book now.”
      or
    • “Nick is playing baseball at the moment.”
  • Scheduled events (time tables) are also typical for the present simple:
    • “The train leaves at 6:15.”
  • For fixed appointments or arrangements in the future that have been made:
    • “We are leaving this evening.”

What are the signal words for both tenses?

If you are a learner of English with a native language that does not make a difference between these two aspects (simple or continuous), it can be very hard to differentiate. However, there are some certain expressions (signal words) that may help to use the forms properly – although the type of verb (stative or action) always needs to be considered, too. Basically, you always have to determine if the statement refers to the current point in time or if it is more of general nature. Compare:

Signal words for the present simple and continuous

Present simple Present continuous
generally true or happening regularly happening at the moment or temporarily

Examples:

  • often
  • normally
  • usually
  • always
  • never
  • occasionally

Examples:

  • now
  • at the moment
  • Look!
  • this week
  • today

Further explanations related to the topic ‘Present simple and present continuous’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Comparison of the present simple and the present progressive’ and could be interesting, too: