Basic English Tenses: The Present

There are various forms in the English language to express the present – four, to be exact. All of them have specific tasks that play an essential role in describing the present time. They are used to express ongoing, regular, or actions that impact the present. Depending on the effect you want to achieve with your formulations, you use the appropriate tense. The use of the four different present tenses in English is also essential to avoid misunderstandings about the course of a specific incident.

Luckily, there are, however, certain “signal words” that help you to find out which form of present tense you ought to use. 

Present Simple

This English present tense is usually used for general statements, to describe a regular action in the present, or to describe the consequences of actions. It uses the base form of the verb (except for the verb be). The only change from the base is the addition of s for third person singular.

  • Statement: You speak English.
  • Negative Statement: You don’t (do not) speak English.
  • Question: Do you speak English?
  • Statement: He speaks English.
  • Negative Statement: He doesn’t (does not) speak English.
  • Question: Does he speak English?


1) Repeated Actions

  • I play golf.
  • He doesn’t play golf.
  • The bus leaves every day at 8 AM.
  • She always forgets to do her homework.
  • You never forget your phone.
  • Steve visits his grandmother from time to time.

2) Facts & Generalizations (however, the speaker doesn’t have to be correct about the fact)

  • Dogs like meat.
  • The Earth circles the Sun.
  • Austria is not a nickname for Australia.
  • Do all cats hate dogs?
  • I am a human being.

3) Scheduled Events in the Near Future

  • I’ll pick you up tonight at 8 PM.
  • The bus leaves in 20 minutes.
  • When does the class begin tomorrow?
  • The train leaves at 11 AM, not at 11:30 AM.
  • When do you board the plane?

4) Right Now

(However, you can only use non-continuous or certain mixed verbs here)

  • She needs some coffee right now.
  • He enjoys the moment.
  • Do you need my help here now?
  • We don’t have our tickets ready.
  • Does she need your help at the moment?

Signal Words:

  • always
  • only
  • never
  • ever 
  • every
  • still
  • just
  • often
  • seldom
  • usually
  • sometimes
  • normally
  • generally

Present Continuoues / Present Progressive

You use the Present Continuous / Present Progressive (it’s both the same) to express an action that is happening precisely at the current point in time. It is formed using am/is/are + present participle (infinitive verb form + the ending “ing”)

  • Statement: He is talking on the phone now.
  • Negative Statement: I’m not joking right now. 
  • Question: Are you working at the moment?


1) Right Now

  • I’m doing my homework now.
  • Is he sleeping?
  • They are watching TV.
  • She isn’t working at the moment.
  • Are you listening?

2) Current Actions that take on longer

  • I’m studying hard to improve grades.
  • He is changing his diet to lose some weight.
  • We are losing our minds trying to solve this problem.
  • Are they bullying you at school?
  • Isn’t your professor teaching you how to do algebra?

3) Near Future

  • I’m coming to the party later.
  • Isn’t he visiting his sister next weekend?
  • We are meeting up with some friends later after class.
  • They are planning to join us later.
  • Are you still practicing for your concert tomorrow?

4) Repetitive Irritating/Shocking Events

(It’s supposed to express the idea that something irritating or shocking often happens and, therefore, implies negative emotion. Remember to put the words “always” or “constantly” between “be” and “verb+ing.”)

  • They are always complaining about their homework.
  • He is constantly lying about his whereabouts.

Signal Words:

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

Present Perfect

The Present Perfect is a tense that is difficult for English learners to understand. It’s kind of a “hybrid” of the past and the present. The past is linked to the present. Suppose an action in the present has just been completed or said action has consequences for the present. In these two cases, as well as in a process that began in the past and only ended in the present, you use the Present Perfect tense. It is formed with have/has + past participle.

  • Statement: I have just finished my homework.
  • Negative Statement: He hasn’t had a proper meal for days.
  • Question: Have you gone home?


1) Actions Happening During an Undefined Time Before Now

Notice: You don’t use the Present Perfect to describe a specific event in the past, but rather an “experience.” You also use it to talk about changes over time, list specific accomplishments of individuals, or talk about an expected action that hasn’t happened / isn’t completed (yet).

  • We’ve lived in Canada for some years.
  • I’ve been to the gym before I got here.
  • She hasn’t done this before.
  • Our daughter has learned how to read.
  • They’ve changed since the last time I’ve seen them.

2) Timespan From The Past Until Now

Notice: We also use the Present Perfect for events/actions that started in the past and have continued up until now – either finished just now or still continuing. But keep in mind that 

  • He hasn’t finished his homework yet.
  • We’ve just left for school. 
  • Since when has he been the team’s coach?

Signal Words:

  • already
  • ever
  • just
  • never
  • not yet
  • so far
  • till now
  • up to now

Present Perfect Continuous / Present Perfect Progressive

You only use this tense for events that began in the past and continue into the present. You must want to emphasize the course of the action. The present progressive is formed with have/has + been + infinitive + the ending “ing.”

  • Statement: He’s been acting quite strange lately.
  • Negative Statement: She hasn’t been working for the last couple of days.
  • Question: Have you been doing your homework while I was gone?


1) Timespan From The Past Until Now

  • What has he been doing for the last 30 minutes?
  • I’ve been waiting here for the previous 2 hours!
  • For how long have you been staying at your friend’s place?

2) Recently, Lately

  • She’s been eating too much candy lately.
  • Have you been studying for the upcoming test?
  • Recently, I’ve been visiting him more often.

Signal Words:

  • all-day
  • for x years
  • since xxxx 
  • how long?
  • the whole week/day/hour/etc.
  • for (timespan)