The Present Continuous

Learn about how and why to use the present continuous tense in English. When you have finished studying the grammar use the interactive exercises below to check your comprehension! There is a classroom presentation version of this lesson in the “materials” tab above. If you are looking for a lesson contrasting the present continuous with the present simple, you can find it here. This lesson is part of a complete and free Elementary English Course.

When to use the present continuous

We use this tense to talk about:

  • Actions in progress now.
    • “My mom is cooking and it smells delicious”
  • Actions happening around this time.
    • “I’m reading a really good book at the moment”
  • Future plans.
    • “We are visiting our friends tomorrow”

How to form present the continuous

We form the present continuous with the verb to be and a verb in the -ing form.

To Be + ________ ing.

  • He is swimming.
  • We are waiting.
  • They are singing.


  • They are speaking English.
  • He is waiting.
  • I am listening.
  • She is speaking.


In negative present continuous sentences, we negate the verb to be with not.

  • They aren’t (are not) speaking English.
  • He is not waiting.
  • I am not listening.
  • She is not speaking.


To make questions in the present continuous we simply invert the order of the subject (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) and the verb to be.

  • Are they speaking English?
  • is he waiting?
  • Am I listening?
  • is she speaking?

Contractions (negative)

When we are speaking informally, it is common to combine words. These combinations are called contractions. We generally avoid contractions in formal contexts.

Full FormContractionContraction (alternative)
I am not _____ing.I’m not _____ing. 
You are not _____ing.You’re not _____ing.You aren’t _____ing.
He / she / it is not _____ing.He’s / she’s / it’s not _____ing.He / she / it isn’t _____ing.
We are not _____ing.We’re not _____ing.We aren’t _____ing.
They are not _____ing.they ‘re not _____ing.They aren’t _____ing.

Different ways of forming -ing verbs

Forming the -ing conjugation for most verbs is simple, simply add -ing at the end of the bare infinitive. However, some verbs are more irregular. Here are some examples of verbs that are irregular in the -ing form.

Just add -ing.

  • Play – playing
  • Want – wanting

Doubling consonants

  • Swim – swimming
  • Plan – planning

Ending in “ie”

  • Lie – lying
  • Die – dying

Ending in “e”

  • Have – having
  • Take – taking

Non-Action Verbs

Some verbs refer to STATES and not ACTIONS.

In English, like in many other languages, we tend to avoid these verbs in continuous forms.

The verb “have” , as in “to possess” is a state, not an action, so it is incorrect to say;

  • I am having a house with a garden.

It is necessary to use the present simple;

  • I have a house with a garden.

Other Common Non-Action / Stative Verbs

There are many other non-action verbs (also known as stative verbs) that we should avoid in any continuous tense. here is a list of some common examples.

  • Want
  • Need
  • Believe
  • Want
  • Belong
  • Know
  • Like
  • Love
  • Hate
  • Hear
  • Matter
  • Mean
  • Prefer
  • Realize
  • Remember
  • Seem