What is the Present Continuous Tense?
The Present Continuous tense is used primarily to indicate that an action is currently happening and is still ongoing. Sentences with Present Continuous tense can also be used to indicate temporary situations, bad habits, and activities planned in the near future. Let’s take a look at the different ways we can use this tense.
If you are more interested in seeing some examples, take a look at our post on 60 Present Continuous examples.
To test your present continuous skills, you can check out our present continuous test.
1. An Action that is Happening Right Now
What is he doing right now?
He is sleeping.
2. A Temporary Situation
Where are you living right now?
I am living with my parents until I find a new apartment.
3. Plans for the Near Future
What are you doing tomorrow?
I am eating lunch with Sally tomorrow.
4. Temporary Habits
Why is he so tired lately?
Because he is swimming every morning now.
5. Complaining about a Bad Habit
Why are you angry?
Because Tom is always running late.
6. Describing an Overall Trend
Why is your movie theatre so busy?
Because people are watching a lot of movies right now.
Present Continuous Tense Examples
Usually, the Present Continuous tense is taught as the second tense children learn, after the Present Simple tense. Most children do not have any problems learning the Present Continuous tense formula as it is fairly basic. Let’s take a look at an example for Present Continuous tense to see how we can use it.
For a more complete list of Present Continuous Examples, take a look at our post of 60 Present Continuous tense examples.
As we can see in the picture above, the examples for the present continuous tense follow a pretty straight-forward pattern. If you have mastered the present simple tense, then you should have no worries. These Present Continuous tense examples are quite basic, so they are a great place to start teaching. Once your child can easily ask and answer questions like “What are you doing?”, you should start to use more advanced questions and answers.
More Complicated Present Continuous Tense Sentences
Although most present continuous tense examples are some variation on “What are you doing?”, we can also ask who and where questions as well. Further, as your child gets better at using present continuous tense, they can start to add more information to their sentences. For example:
Basic Sentence: I am running.
More Complex Sentence: I am running in the park. I am running slowly. I am running to school. I am running with my dog.
In all of these ways, we can take the basic bones of a present continuous tense answer and make it more complicated and informative. Here are some more examples of present continuous tense with more complicated questions and answers.
Sentences with Present Continuous Tense
What are you playing?
I am playing football. I am not playing basketball.
What is he doing?
He is eating his lunch. He is not going to the supermarket.
What are Mom and Dad doing?
Mom and Dad are drinking tea in the kitchen. Mom and Dad are not having a picnic in the park.
What are they looking for?
They are looking for their dog. They are not looking for their friend.
Who are we waiting for?
We are waiting for our friend. We are not waiting for a taxi.
Who is walking on the road?
Sam is walking on the road. Jen is not walking on the road.
Where is John working?
John is working at Starbucks. John is not working at McDonalds.
Where is Susan studying?
Susan is studying at a university in Canada. Susan is not studying at a university in England.
Rules for Present Continuous Tense
The rules for Present Continuous tense should not take long for your child to learn. However, It may take some time for them to remember to add the helping verb (is/am/are) and the ending -ing, but with repetition, they will get there.
Generally speaking, the present continuous tense formula is:
Subject + is/am/are + present participle (verb + -ing)
The present continuous formula for questions is:
Question word (ex. what) + is/am/are + subject + present participle (verb + -ing)
For those who are wondering, the present participle is the grammatical term for verbs that end in -ing. Generally, it is formed by using the present simple form of the verb and then adding “ing” to the end.
Walk —> walking
Jump —> jumping
Read —> reading
Exceptions for Present Continuous Tense Rules
1. Changing the Spellings of Certain Verbs
Most verbs in the present continuous tense will just require you to add the “ing” ending as seen above. However, some verbs will require slightly more work.
Drop the silent e at the end of a verb when you are adding “ing”:
He rhymes. He is rhyming.
I love this movie. I am loving this movie.
Final consonant after a short stressed syllable is doubled:
Sit —> Sitting
Fit —> Fitting
Cutting —> Cutting
Hit —> Hitting
Rot —> Rotting
An “ie” becomes a “y”:
Lie —> Lying
Tie —> Tying
2. Stative Verbs
A stative verb is a verb that describes the state of someone or something instead of an explicit action. Common examples of stative verbs are have, hate, or love. We do not use stative verbs with the Present Continuous. If these verbs are talking about the present, then they should be put in the Present Simple tense.
I am believing you. (wrong)
I believe you. (right)
He is loving chocolate. (wrong)
He loves chocolate. (right)
Present Continuous Vs Present Simple
Present Simple tense is often used for facts or things that are generally true.
I live in Canada. (A fact that I believe will continue for some time)
I like to eat fish.
I work at Starbucks. (I consider this job a long-term career)
I own four cats.
Present Continuous is more often used to describe temporarily true things, either due to a fad, a new habit, or due to recent circumstances.
I am living in China. (Right now I am living here, but I don’t intend to stay forever)
I am trying to eat less fish. (A choice I am making to eat less than I usually do)
I am working at Starbucks while I go to university. (a temporary job)
People are owning more cats lately. (description of a trend)
Sentences with Present Continuous tense can also describe things that are happening right now.
I play soccer.
I am playing soccer.
The first sentence describes the fact that playing soccer is something that I do as a job or hobby. The second sentence describes that I am currently playing soccer. At first, these two sentences can appear very similar, but once you understand the difference between Present Continuous Vs Present Simple, it becomes easier to understand which tense to use.
Finally, we can see a difference between these tenses when we are describing habits. For more permanent habits, we will use the Present Simple. New or temporary habits use the Present Continuous Tense.
He usually eats sandwiches for lunch.
He wants to lose weight, so he is eating salads for lunch.
Present Continuous Tense Exercise Ideas
Now that you know what the Present Continuous tense is, and how it differs from Present Simple, how can you teach and practice it? In this list, I have collected my favorite Present Continuous tense exercises. I have tried to keep them fun and informative. Some children may like one Present Continuous tense exercise over another, so try them all and see which one is the best for your child.
One of the best Present Continuous tense exercises is charades. In this game, one player acts out a common verb, and then their teammate must guess what the verb is. Have your child answer in full sentences:
He is running.
He is dancing.
She is sleeping
She is playing basketball.
Even if you don’t have enough people to play a full game with multiple teams, two players can still be fun. No points are needed. Just take turns acting and guessing.
Go to the Zoo or Watch a Nature Documentary
Kids love animals a lot. This love of animals is central to this Present Continuous tense exercise. Ideally, you can turn this into a fun trip to the local zoo, but for those people who can’t do that, then a nature documentary will work just as well.
Use the opportunity to ask your child questions about what the animals are doing. If they are getting better at Present Continuous, encourage them to ask you some questions!
If you are watching a movie or tv show about animals, then watch in your native language, but consider using English subtitles, especially if your child is learning to read. If they are getting better at English, consider switching it up and having the audio in English and the subtitles in your native language.
Practice Everyday English Habits
Simple questions that you ask every day can add up to big English gains. The more they hear them and get used to answering in Present Continuous, the more comfortable they will be with this tense. Further, by targeting your questions at different uses for Present Continuous, you can make them better at understanding when you use Present Continuous vs Present Simple.
Sample Questions You Can Ask Your Child
What are you doing right now? (for current actions)
What are you doing today? (for near-future plans)
What are you doing tonight? (for near-future plans)
Why are you so happy/angry/sleepy lately? (for recent trends)
Drawing and Writing
There is no simpler or effective Present Continuous sentence exercise than drawing and writing. A great habit to form, especially on weekends, is to have your kids draw their favorite thing that they did this week. You can then guide them through writing a Present Continuous sentence to describe what they’re doing in the picture that they drew.
If they are new to it, then help them by giving them the Present Continuous formula and plenty of Present Continuous tense examples to base their own sentence off of. If they still need more help, no worries, just help them make the sentence, and then have them write it. Next time, they can try to do it on their own.
Reading and Writing Your Own Book
Books are one of my favorite ways to teach. Most basic books will have some Present Continuous, so keep a list of your books that you can use to help reinforce rules for Present Continuous tense, and try to read them more often during reading time.
If your child wants to, making your own book can be a fun and rewarding project. Have your child write the sentences, draw the pictures, and construct the book with your help. Through this, they get a lot of exposure to sentences with Present Continuous tense, which will help them internalize the rules and formula.
Play a Board Game
Board games are flexible ways to practice any vocabulary or grammar. You can use a basic board game to use as an exercise for Present Continuous. To get some ideas, take a look at our post on board games and download our free Board Game that you can use to practice English.
Learn Verbs with The Learner’s Nook
If you are interested in learning more about verbs in English, we have plenty of verb resources at our Verbs in English page.
Present Continuous tense is a great introduction to verb conjugation for children who are learning English as a second language. It is a very commonly used verb tense, and strong fundamentals in it will help your child immensely as they grow as an English speaker. Grammar and verb tenses can be very tricky to teach from home, especially for non-native English speaking parents. For this reason, I hope that this guide has helped you feel confident in your ability to help your child master the Present Continuous tense.
If you have any questions about the Present Continuous tense, please feel free to ask us in the comments below. If you are looking to practice the “to be” verbs and Present Simple, take a look at our post here.