Ways of expressing the present

(How can the present be described in English?)

Table of contents – ways to express the present

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Ways of expressing the present
  2. Further tenses and particularities
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What expressions and forms convey the present?

To represent the present time, the English language offers various possibilities. In a grammatical aspect, these are the typical present tenses. In a relative perspective, other tenses may also refer to this time. Compare the subsequent points:

  • The usual variants are, of course, the present tenses, which already suggest the tense inherently (by their meaning). Even though references to other times are available, they are mostly used for this purpose. Additionally, they are divided into simple and continuous forms (for details, take a look at the distinction of the aspect):
    • “Nelson always has the best ideas.”
      • general comment about repetitive things/actions
    • “The students are reading books at the moment.”
      • In this example, the ing-form illustrates the currently running process.
  • Another option is the present perfect. Although it represents periods from the past to present, the focus is on the now, however. Here, too, it is possible to distinguish between simple and continuous (see also the comparison of the aspects for details):
    • “Pablo and Christine have known each other for years.”
      • The emphasis in this statement is on the circumstance that the two still know each other.
    • “It has been raining for hours.”
      • Again, the rain is continuing and, thus, expresses the present.
  • A noteworthy feature is the phrase ‘have got’ when used for possession. Grammatically speaking, this form refers to the past (and belongs to the present perfect simple) but, in practice, it is the present that is expressed:
    • “My neighbours have got a second house on the coast.”
      • Important is that they own it now.
    • “I’ve got three brothers.”
      • This fact is still true today.

What other tenses can be used for the present?

Besides the regular forms of the present tenses mentioned above, individual other tenses may convey the current time. Read the explanation:

  • Although they are unrealistic representations (irrealis), certain if-sentences may also refer to the present. The event in the statement would or could take place now if a particular incident occurred:
    • “If it stops raining, I will go jogging.”
    • “If I had enough time, I would cook for you.”
  • In individual cases, it is also possible to use the auxiliary ‘will’ (whose purpose is primarily to display the future) for the present. However, in grammatical terms, it is the future simple. In most situations, negations are necessary for such a statement to make sense. Then, it expresses that something in the now, which means in the present, is supposed to happen but does not:
    • “Could you help me, Jack? My car won’t start.”
      • Here, the auxiliary verb ‘will’ combines with ‘not’ to construct the short form ‘won’t’.
    • “This pen won’t write. Can I have yours?”
      • This comment includes the negated shortened form ‘won’t’ too.

Further explanations relating to the ‘Ways of expressing the present’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘How can the present be described in English language?’ and may also be interesting: