Present Progressive Tense in English Grammar

Introduction

The present progressive, also known as the present continuous tense, is formed with the verb be and the present participle or -ing form of the main verb. We use this tense to talk about actions that are in progress at the time of speaking and temporary actions. We can also use the present progressive to talk about future arrangements and plans.

Learn how to conjugate verbs in the present progressive tense and get tips on its usage with Lingolia’s English grammar lesson. Then test your grammar skills in the exercises.

Example

James is travelling around Australia. He is staying at a youth hostel in a little Australian town. The town is becoming more and more popular because of its beautiful beaches.

James is meeting his friend Brad in town tonight. Brad is working there as a tour guide over the summer.

James is in the town centre now. Look! James is taking a picture of another tourist.

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Usage

We use the present progressive tense to descibe:

  • actions that are taking place at the present moment i.e. now
    Example:
    Look! James is taking a picture of another tourist.
  • predetermined plans or appointments that have been made for the near future
    Example:
    He is meeting his friend Brad tonight.
  • actions that are only happening temporarily
    Example:
    James is travelling around Australia.
    Brad is working there as a tour guide over the summer.
  • actions that are currently happening, but not at this very moment
    Example:
    He is staying at a youth hostel.
  • situations that are changing
    Example:
    The town is becoming more and more popular because of its beautiful beaches.

There are four present tenses in English grammar. Besides the present progressive, there is the simple present, the present perfect and the present perfect progressive.

Learn about the differences between English present tenses on Lingolia’s English Tense Comparison page:

Signal Words: English Present Progressive Tense

Signal words can help us decide which tense to use. The signal words for the present progressive are:

  • at the moment
  • now, just now, right now
  • Listen!
  • Look!

Conjugation of English Present Progressive Tense

To conjugate verbs in the present progressive we use the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb be. Be is irregular (see the table below). The main verb is conjugated in the -ing form or present participle, it is the same for all people. The table provides and overview of the conjugation of verbs in positive, negative and interrogative sentences in the present progressive tense.

positive negative question
I I am speaking I am not speaking Am I speaking?
he, she, it he is speaking he is not speaking Is he speaking?
you, we, they you are speaking you are not speaking Are you speaking?

Present Participle – Spelling Rules

Generally, the present participle is formed by add -ing to the base infinitive form of a verb. However, there are a few exceptions:

  • An -e at the end of the word is removed, but -ee, -oe and -ye remain unchanged.
    Example:
    come – coming
    (but: agree - agreeing)
  • The final consonant is doubled in words that have a short stressed vowel before the final consonant. However, -w, -x and -y are not doubled
    Example:
    sit – sitting
    (but: fix –fixing)
  • An -l as the final consonant after a vowel is always doubled in British English but not in American English.
    Example:
    travel – travelling (British), traveling (American)
  • An -ie at the end of the word is replaced by a -y.
    Example:
    lie – lying

Contractions

Contractions are a combination of certain pronouns, verbs and the word not. They are mostly used in spoken and informal written English. The table below provides an overview of contractions in the present progressive using the verb be.

long formcontractionexample
am (not) …’m (not) I’m (not) (not: I amn’t)
are …’re you’re
are not …’re not/… aren’t we’re not/we aren’t
is …’s he’s
is not …’s not/… isn’t she’s not/she isn’t

Contractions in written English

In written English, the contracted form of are can only be used after pronouns and not after nouns or names.

Example:
They’re travelling around Australia.
(but not: The tourists’re travelling around Australia.)