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THE PRESENT CONTINUOUS TENSE


1. Use of the present continuous:

The Present Continuous tense is usually used to express continuing, ongoing actions which are taking place at the moment of speaking or writing. [In the examples given below, the verbs in the Present Continuous tense are underlined.]


--> Right now I am cooking supper.
--> At the moment the plane is flying over the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Present Continuous tense is often used in conversation.

--> "What are you doing?"
--> "I am working on my English assignment."

Occasionally, the Present Continuous tense is used to refer to a future event.

--> We are leaving tomorrow.

The Present Continuous tense is often used to give descriptions:

--> People are sitting on the café terrace.
--> The traffic is making a lot of noise.
--> She's wearing a red dress.

The Present Continuous tense is often used to express temporary situations:

--> I'm sleeping in the spare room this week because I'm decorating my bedroom.

2. Formation of the present continuous:

The Present Continuous tense of any verb is formed from the Simple Present of the auxiliary to be, followed by what is generally referred to as the present participle of the verb.

The present participle of a verb is formed by adding ing to the bare infinitive. For instance, the present participle of the verb to work is working.

Thus, the Present Continuous tense of the verb to work is conjugated as follows:

 I am working
 you are working
 he is working
 she is working
 it is working
 we are working
 they are working

3. Spelling rules for the formation of the present participle:

Some verbs change their spelling when the ending ing is added to form the present participle.

a. Verbs ending in a silent e
When a verb ends in a silent e, the silent e is dropped before the ending ing is added. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to close   closing
  to dine   dining
  to leave   leaving
  to move   moving

However, when a verb ends in an e which is not silent, the final e is not dropped before the ending ing is added. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to be   being
  to see   seeing

b. Verbs ending in ie
When a verb ends in ie, the ie is changed to y before the ending ing is added. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to die   dying
  to lie   lying

When a verb ends in y, no change is made before the ending is added. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to fly   flying
  to play   playing


c. One-syllable verbs ending in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel
Except in the case of the final consonants w, x and y, when a one-syllable verb ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel, the final consonant must be doubled before the ending ing is added. The reason for this is to reflect the fact that the pronunciation of the single vowel does not change when the ending ing is added.

English vowels have a variety of pronunciations. For instance, each English vowel has two contrasting pronunciations, which are sometimes referred to as short and long. Vowels which are followed by two consonants, and vowels which are followed by a single consonant at the end of a word, are generally pronounced short. In contrast, vowels which are followed by a single consonant followed by another vowel are generally pronounced long.

In the table below, the underlined vowels in the left-hand column are pronounced short; whereas the underlined vowels in the right-hand column are pronounced long. For example:

Short Vowels Long Vowels
  fat   fate
  tapping   taping
  let   delete
  win   wine
  filling   filing
  not   note
  hopping   hoping
  flutter   flute

Thus, in the case of most one-syllable verbs ending in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel, the vowel is pronounced short. In order to reflect the fact that the vowel is also pronounced short in the corresponding present participle, except in the case of w, x and y, the final consonant must be doubled before the ending ing is added.

In the following examples, the consonants which have been doubled are
underlined. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to nod   nodding
  to dig   digging
  to run   running
  to clap   clapping
  to set   setting

When a verb ends in w, x or y preceded by a single vowel, the final consonant is not doubled before the ending is added. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to draw   drawing
  to fix   fixing
  to say   saying

It should also be noted that when a verb ends in a single consonant preceded by two vowels, the final consonant is not doubled before the ending is added. The reason for this is that two vowels together are generally pronounced long. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to rain   raining
  to read   reading
  to meet   meeting
  to soak   soaking

d. Verbs of more than one syllable which end in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel
When a verb of more than one syllable ends in a single consonant other than w, x or y preceded by a single vowel, the final consonant is doubled to form the present participle only when the last syllable of the verb is pronounced with the heaviest stress.

For instance, in the following examples, the last syllables of the verbs have the heaviest stress, and the final consonants are doubled to form the present participles. In these examples, the syllables pronounced with the heaviest stress are underlined. For example:


Infinitive Present Participle
  to expel   expelling
  to begin   beginning
  to occur   occurring
  to omit   omitting

When a verb of more than one syllable ends in w, x or y, the final consonant is not doubled before the ending ing is added. In the following examples, the syllables pronounced with the heaviest stress are underlined. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to allow   allowing
  to affix   affixing
  to convey   conveying

When the last syllable of a verb is not pronounced with the heaviest stress, the final consonant is usually not doubled to form the present participle. For instance, in the following examples, the last syllables of the verbs do not have the heaviest stress, and the final consonants are not doubled to form the present participles. In these examples, the syllables pronounced with the heaviest stress are underlined. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle
  to listen   listening
  to order   ordering
  to focus   focusing
  to limit   limiting

If necessary, a dictionary can be consulted to determine which syllable of a verb has the heaviest stress. Many dictionaries use symbols such as apostrophes to indicate which syllables are pronounced with the heaviest stress.



It should be noted that British and American spelling rules differ for verbs which end in a single l preceded by a single vowel. In British spelling, the l is always doubled before the endings ing and ed
are added. However, in American spelling, verbs ending with a single l follow the same rule as other verbs; the l is doubled only when the last syllable has the heaviest stress. In the following examples, the syllables with the heaviest stress are underlined. For example:

Infinitive Present Participle  
  American Spelling British Spelling
 to signal   signaling   signalling
 to travel   traveling   travelling
     
 to compel   compelling   compelling
 to propel   propelling   propelling

From these examples it can be seen that the American and British spellings for verbs ending in a single l differ only when the last syllable does not have the heaviest stress.


 

4. Questions and negative statements

a. Questions
In the Present Continuous, the verb to be acts as an auxiliary. As is the case with other English tenses, it is the auxiliary which is used to form questions and negative statements.

To form a question in the Present Continuous tense, the auxiliary is placed before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question
  I am working.   Am I working?
  You are working.   Are you working?
  He is working.   Is he working?
  She is working.   Is she working?
  It is working.   Is it working?
  We are working.   Are we working?
  They are working.   Are they working?

b. Negative statements
To form a negative statement, the word not is added after the auxiliary. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I am working.   I am not working.
  You are working.   You are not working.
  He is working.   He is not working.
  She is working.   She is not working.
  It is working.   It is not working.
  We are working.   We are not working.
  They are working.   They are not working.


c. Negative questions
To form a negative question, the auxiliary is placed before the subject, and the word not is placed after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the auxiliary. Although there is no universally accepted contraction for am not, the expression aren't I? is often used in spoken English. For example:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  Am I not working?   [Aren't I working?] - used in speaking
  Are you not working?   Aren't you working?
  Is he not working?   Isn't he working?
  Is she not working?   Isn't she working?
  Is it not working?   Isn't it working?
  Are we not working?   Aren't we working?
  Are they not working?   Aren't they working?



5. Comparison of the uses of the simple present and present continuous

The Simple Present tense may be used for stating general truths, habits, regular events, timetables and procedures or recipes.

--> Nova Scotia is a Canadian province. (to be)
--> Geese fly south every winter.

In contrast, the Present Continuous tense is usually used to refer to ongoing actions happening at the time of speaking or writing. In the following examples, the verbs in the Present Continuous tense are underlined.

--> Right now, I am visiting the province of Nova Scotia.
--> At the moment, a flock of geese is flying overhead.

Use the present continuous if you consider the action or event to be temporary:
--> Are you getting on with your parents now? (you had an argument last week)
--> My brother’s being really nice at the moment (and this is not normal)

There are some verbs that you don't usually use in the continuous form. Generally speaking they're verbs that describe states and not actions, such as these:
--> verbs describing thought and opinions: think, believe, remember, know, forget, agree, disagree…
--> verbs describing emotions: want, like, love, hate, adore, detest…
--> verbs describing the senses: see, hear, taste, feel, smell…

This doesn't mean that it's impossible to use these verbs in the continuous. It just means that it's unusual and would probably be very specific in a particular situation.



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