Simple Present or Present Progressive in English Grammar

Introduction

We use the simple present and the present progressive to talk about things that take place in the present. The simple present is used for permanent actions, to describe daily events, facts or as a narrative form for stories that take place in the present. The present progressive is used for temporary actions and to describe what is happening at the moment of speaking.

Compare the usage of the simple present and present progressive tenses in English grammar with Lingolia. In the exercises, you can put your knowledge to the test.

Example

The Smiths are going on holiday. They usually go on holiday by train. They take a taxi to the station, check the timetable and get on the train.

At the moment, they are standing in front of the timetable. The train departs at 15:12 and arrives in Brighton at 16:45.

At 6 pm the Smiths are meeting Ben’s aunt in Brighton. She studies law in a London, but she is working as a waitress in Brighton during the summer holiday.

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Usage

The chart below provides an overview of the differences between the English simple present and present progressive, also present continuous, tenses.

Simple Present Present Progressive

actions that occur in a sequence

Example:
They take a taxi to the station, check the timetable and get on the train.

actions that are in progress at the moment of speaking

Example:
The Smiths are going on holiday.
At the moment, they are standing in front of the time table.

actions that occur according to an official schedule or programme

Example:
The train leaves at 15:12 and arrives in Brighton at 16:45.

actions that occur at a time that is personally arranged or organized

Example:
At 6 pm they are meeting Ben’s aunt in Brighton.

permanent actions that occur regularly with signal words such as always, often, never

Example:
She studies law in London.
They always go on holiday by train.

temporary actions that occur for a short or fixed time period

Example:
She is working as a waitress in Brighton during the summer holiday.

Signal Words

Signal words can help us to recognise which tense to use in a sentence. Below is a list of signal words for the simple present and present progressive tenses.

Simple PresentPresent Progressive
  • always
  • every day/month/…
  • often
  • normally
  • usually
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never
  • first
  • then
  • at the moment
  • now
  • right now
  • Listen!
  • Look!
  • today
  • this week
  • this summer
  • this year

Verbs that are not used in the Present Progressive

The following verbs are not generally used in a progressive form.

  • stative verbs
    be*, cost, fit, mean, remain, suit
    Example:
    They are on holiday.
  • verbs that show possession/belonging
    belong, have*
    Example:
    The luggage belongs to the family.
  • verbs of sensation
    feel*, hear, see*, smell*, taste*, touch
    Example:
    They hear the loudspeaker announcement.
  • verbs that express emotions
    hate, hope, like, love, prefer, regret, want, wish
    Example:
    Ben loves going by train.
  • verbs of thought and recognition
    believe, know, realise, recognise, seem, think*, understand
    Example:
    He knows where they have to get off the train.
  • clauses accompanying direct speech
    answer, ask, reply, say
    Example:
    “We must hurry to get the train”, Ben’s father says.

*exceptions

Some stative verbs also have a progressive form, but the meaning of the progressive form is sightly different.

stative formprogressive form
verbmeaningexamplemeaningexample
be state She is happy about the holiday. deliberate behaviour She is being silly.
have possession He has two suitcases. in particular expressions He’s having a good time.
feel opinion I feel that’s a bad idea. feel (health) He’s not feeling well.
feel (sense) It feels like you have a temperature. touch I’m feeling inside my suitcase to find my passport.

see

sight I see the train coming. be together with somebody Nigel and Beatrice are seeing each other.
understand I see what you mean. have an appointment or meeting We’re seeing our aunty this afternoon.
smell smell (sense)

You smell like a summer breeze.

smell something (action) Why are you smelling your sunglasses?
taste taste (sense)

This soup tastes delicious.

try, test (action) I am tasting the soup to see if it’s been poisoned.
think think, believe I think it’s going to be hot today. contemplate What are you thinking about?

Conjugation

For information on the conjugation of these two tenses, see: