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.
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.
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
actions that are in progress at the moment of speaking
actions that occur according to an official schedule or programme
actions that occur at a time that is personally arranged or organized
permanent actions that occur regularly with signal words such as always, often, never
temporary actions that occur for a short or fixed time period
Signal Words: Simple Present vs. Present Progressive
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.
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
- They are on holiday.
- verbs that show possession/belonging
- The luggage belongs to the family.
- verbs of sensation
feel*, hear, see*, smell*, taste*, touch
- They hear the loudspeaker announcement.
- verbs that express emotions
hate, hope, like, love, prefer, regret, want, wish
- Ben loves going by train.
- verbs of thought and recognition
believe, know, realise, recognise, seem, think*, understand
- He knows where they have to get off the train.
- clauses accompanying direct speech
answer, ask, reply, say
- “We must hurry to get the train”, Ben’s father says.
*change of meaning
Some stative verbs also have a progressive form, but the meaning of the progressive form is sightly different.
|stative form||progressive form|
|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.|
|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.|
You smell like a summer breeze.
|smell something (action)||Why are you smelling your sunglasses?|
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?|