Present simple

The present simple is used for ....

permanent states:

I am Tanzanian (and I will always be Tanzanian).
I work in Villanueva Del Pardillo.
I teach English.

habits and routines:

I walk to work every day (it’s part of my daily routine).
I don’t wear white trousers (it’s my habit not to).
I like going to the theatre at weekends.

permanent truths and facts:

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Water boils at 100ºC.
New technology makes it easier to learn English.

 

Present continuous

The present continuous is used for:

actions happening at the moment of speaking:

I'm sitting in front of the computer.
The phone’s ringing.
I'm thinking of what examples to use on this page.

actions happening around the moment of speaking:

I’m learning French (not at this moment, but I’ve got a class tomorrow evening).
I’m doing a lot of revision for my exams (but not right now).
I'm seeing a lot of my brother at the moment (but he's not here now).

descriptions:

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

temporary situations:

I’m staying with my neighbours while my parents are away.
My brother is using the bus because his car is being painted.
I'm sleeping in the spare room because I'm decorating my bedroom.

Remember that we use the continuous form in English more than you use it in Spanish. If something sounds strange to you, it doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong!


Comparison of simple and continuous

You should use the present simple to talk about things you consider to be facts:

Do you get on with your brother? (generally)
I think my brother is a pain in the neck (always, not just now).

Use the present continuous if you consider the action or event to be temporary:

Are you getting on with your brother now? (you had an argument last week)
My brother’s being really nice at the moment (and this is not normal).

Both forms can sometimes be used to talk about the same thing, but there will be a difference in meaning:

My brother lives in Italy (because his wife is Italian and they don't like the weather in England).
My brother’s living in Italy (because his company has sent him there for six months).

There are some verbs that you don't usually use in the continuous form, just as in Spanish. Generally speaking they're verbs that describe states and not actions, such as these:

verbs describing thought processes 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.


Some comparisons with Spanish

The present simple is more common in Spanish than it is in English. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to remember what we use each tense for in English. If you think of what you want to say in Spanish and then translate literally you'll find it more difficult to get the right tense. Here are some examples:

Imagine walking into a pub and seeing a friend you thought was on holiday in Barcelona. You would probably ask ¿Qué haces aquí?, but in English we would say What are you doing here? because the question refers to this moment. If you ask What do you do here?, you're asking about the work that person does.

If the phone is ringing, you might say Lo cojo yo. In English we would say I'll get it because we're offering to do something and use 'will'.

If you're talking to a friend about their holiday next year, you could ask ¿Con quién vas?, but in English it has to be Who are you going with? because we're talking about a future arrangement (or intention).


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