What is the difference between “I am living in Munich” and “I live in Munich?” If you are not sure, read on. Knowing when to choose between the simple present tense and the present continuous tense (also known as the present progressive) is a common challenge amongst beginners and intermediate learners of English. If you asked your average native English speaker to explain why he uses simple present or present continuous, it is highly likely that he or she wouldn’t be able to tell you – this is because they trust what “sounds” right, having been exposed to the correct use of the language since they were children.
For English learners who were not brought up with the language, it is important to learn some rules.
If you learn these simple rules, you will be perfect in simple present and present continuous in no time!
After enough practice, you too will one day “instinctively” know when to use simple present or present continuous even if you don’t remember the rules anymore!
This post will present you with the rules you need to learn and will also give you a free practice quiz / test at the end.
Let’s get started!
Simple present tense:
General statements: We use present simple to describe general, every-day statements such as:
Doctors heal people. I live in Munich. Berlin is the capital of Germany.
Routines: Anything that you do regularly or any action this is repeated also used simple present:
I go to the gym twice a week. I fly to Spain three times a year. The World cup takes place once every four years.
Some key words to help you: usually, normally, always*, sometimes, every day/month/year = simple present
Facts/fixed situations that don’t really change
The river Isar flows through Bad Tölz and Landshut before reaching the Danube. Snow melts at 0 degrees.
States: We use simple present with certain verbs even if the feeling is temporary. The following verbs are never (or very, very rarely, used with -ing):
mental states: believe, doubt, realise, recognise, think, understand, know
(for example: I know the answer and not
I am knowing the answer).
wants/ likes: love, hate, need, prefer, want, need (for example: I need more time to finish the project and not
I am needing more time to finish the project)
appearance: look, seem (for example: regular English practice seems like a good idea and not
regular English practice is seeming like a good idea)
existence: be, exist (for example: I believe God exists and not
I am believing that God is existing):
Important: In the third person, after singular subjects (he, she, it, the dog, Andrea) we add an ‘s’ to the base form (infinitive) of main forms – except with ‘be’.
Base form: speak
Third person singular: speaks
Werner speaks German, Bavarian and English.
Tip: German speakers may be familiar with the eselsbrücke – “he/she/it das ‘s’ muss mit”.
Note: this only applies to singular form with verbs other than be. David, Amy and Claudia speak English very well. (here there is no ‘s’ because the subject is plural)
Questions and negative sentences:
In simple present we mainly use the verb ‘to do’ to form a question.
Do you have a car?
Does she have her own office? (Note the ‘s’ for third person – she – appears in the verb. Not:
Does she has a car?)
Aside from that, we normally use the verb ‘to be’ for questions: I.e. Is she German? Are you new here? (am, is, are).
For negative sentences it is the same with either the verb ‘to do’ used or the verb ‘to be’: No, I don’t have a car. No, she isn’t German.
Present continuous tense:
You will be pleased to know that the rules for present continuous (present progressive) are much simpler and shorter!
Present continuous is formed using
Subject (S) + verb ‘to be’ + verb+ing
I am writing a lesson
Note: The verb ‘to be’ is very important – a lot of learners forget to use it. Every time you use -ing in present continuous you must use either am, is, or are. (Am = I, is = he/she/it, we = are)
We use present continuous to indicate something is happening NOW:
I am writing an online revision lesson for my students.
You are reading this lesson and learning.
Note: NOW doesn’t have to literally mean this second. It can be a period in your lives.
You see a friend and you ask how their daughter is: “She’s fine – she’s learning to drive at the moment”
Or in business: What are you up to these days? Answer: I’m working on project Alpha
We also use it for temporary situations:
Compare: I live in Munich (simple present) with I am living in Munich (present continuous).
I live in Munich (fixed situation i.e. this is my home)
I am living in Munich (a temporary situation – i.e. next year I’m returning to England).
Unfinished situation or process
My English is really improving! (and it is continuing to improve…)
Global warming is getting worse in the world
Questions and negative sentences:
In a normal English sentence we have
Subject Verb Object (SVO).
You are (watching) TV
In a question, we simply flip this round
Verb Subject Object (VSO)
Are you (watching) TV?
With negative sentences we simply add not or the short form of not:
I’m not watching TV
She isn’t watching TV
Common mistake: *always is 95% of the time used with simple present except when we describe a NEGATIVE routine. E.g. I am always losing my phone!
We also use both simple present and present continuous when talking about the future. You can find more information, including practice tests in this post: Future tenses.
London School students – Download these rules for your folder using the link above.
Now it’s time to test what you have learnt! After the test, you can see the corrected answers for any mistakes that you have made.