Present Continuous: A Grammar Lesson

Grammar can be difficult to teach as for many native English speakers, we were not taught English grammar the same was as ESL students learn it. For today’s lesson we will focus on the present continuous tense and how it is used in the English language.

The present continuous is most commonly viewed as the” –ing” verb tense. It is used to talk about present situations which we see as short-term or temporary. The structure of the basic present continuous form is:

be verb+ present continuous

Example: are watching/ is watching/am watching

There are four main ways to use the present continuous verb tense which will be discussed in this article. Below are the ways to use the verb and examples to show the meaning. As a teacher it is important to know the situations when to use the verb and not just teach it simply as “the action verb+ -ing” There are conditions and ways to illustrate this common grammar rule.

Situation 1: The Now

The present continuous is used to express the idea that something is happening now, at this very moment. The opposite can also occur; something that is not happening now. This is the basic form of the verb and most languages have this tense. This does not apply to stative verbs such as “like” or “love”


You are reading this now.

You are not sleeping now.

I am liking that movie. (X)

I like that movie. (O)


Situation 2: Actions in Progress Now (which may have begun in the past)

In English, “now” can mean many things, it could mean this second, today, this month, this year, this life time, etc. Sometimes, we use the present continuous to say that we are in the process of doing something which could be a longer action (in progress); however, we might not be doing it at this exact second. Again, this is a common understanding of the verb and is used to describe what we do.


I am working in South Korea this year.

I am not studying to become a lawyer.


Situation 3: Near Future

Sometimes we use the present continuous to indicate that something will or will not happen in the near future. With the near future, usually the event needs to be identified to show the event is in the future. Typically you will use this verb tense to describe your plans or desires/goals.


I am going to school tomorrow.

I am not meeting my friends after work.


Situation 4: Repetition and irritation with conditional adverbs

With words such as “always” or “constantly”, the present continuous expresses the idea that something irritating or shocking often happens. This has a negative meaning, but is similar to the simple present tense.


She is always coming to class late.

I can’t sleep, he is constantly snoring.

Now that you know what the Present Continuous tense is, here is a fun activity to do with a class on getting student to remember and use the present continuous form in sentences.