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The Main 5 Tenses Part 1: Present Simple and Continuous.

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Native speakers communicate around 95% of written and spoken English using only 5 out of all of the 12 tenses.


the actual breakdown of the tenses is as such


Present Simple: 55%

Past Simple: 20%

Future Simple: 8%

Present Perfect: 6%

Present Continuous: 5%


What does this mean for English students?

Basically, your ability to use the tenses and the amount of time practicing them should be reflective of the frequency in which they are used.


So, if a near perfect ability to use the predominant 5 tenses in all of their forms (positive, negative and question) allows you to communicate 95% of what you want to say, these are the ones that you should be focusing on. By focusing on the lesser used tenses you probably aren’t being very efficient in the way that you learn.

Let’s have a look at the main five tenses: I have separated the tenses into 3 posts;

  • Part 1: The Present Simple and the Present Continuous – these deal with present states and actions.

  • Part 2: The Past Simple and the Present Perfect – these connect the past to the present. This part can be found here.

  • Part 3: Future simple and the Present Continuous – these are used to communicate future plans. This part can be found here.




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Present Simple


This is the tense that we use for states, facts, routines, characteristics or other things that are always true.


Positive forms:

  • Our company sells health insurance”.

  • Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla”.

  • We send deliveries three times per week”.


Negative forms: these always negate states, facts, routines or characteristics.

  • Elon Musk doesn’t want to buy Twitter”.

  • We don’t work on Sunday”.

  • Our company doesn’t have an office in Munich anymore”.


Question forms: these should only refer to states, facts, routines or characteristics as well:

  • “Does your company offer aftercare services?”

  • “Do you work seven days a week?”

  • “Do you import products from China, or do you buy them from inside Europe?”



Exercise: answer the following questions in single sentences using the correct form of the Present Simple:

  • What is your job?

  • Where do you work?

  • When do you work?

  • What does your company do?


Exercise: answer these questions with a longer answer, within the answer should be at least one use of the Present Simple.

  • What are your main responsibilities in your job?

  • What is your typical daily routine at work?

  • Who are your main clients?

  • Who are the main competitors of your company?

___________________

Present Continuous


We use the Present Continuous for actions that are happening now, or around now and are temporary.


Positive forms:

  • I’m working from home today”.

  • He is waiting for the client to respond”.

  • They are writing the report at the moment, and it will be finished soon”.


Negative forms: negative forms in the Present Continuous are used to say that an action is not happening at that moment:

  • I’m not working on anything particularly important at the moment, so I can take on more work”.

  • I just looked, he isn’t waiting in the reception, maybe he is waiting in the meeting room”.

  • They are not working in this office today, the are visiting a client in Dresden”.


Question forms:

  • Are you coping with your workload at the moment?

  • Is the factory operating at full capacity today?

  • Are they working on the same project at the moment?


Other uses of the Present Continuous: We also use the present continuous at the start of a lot of formal correspondence:

  • I’m writing to you with regards to the complaint you sent”.

  • I’m contacting you in connection with our conversation last week”.

  • I’m calling about the complaint you made”.



Exercise: answer the following questions in single sentences using the correct form of the Present Continuous:

  • Where are you working today?

  • What is the main piece of work that you are working on at the moment?

  • Is your company planning to open new offices?

  • Are you thinking about changing jobs?

  • How many emails are waiting for you in your inbox?

  • Are you learning anything at the moment?

  • What are your colleagues doing right now?

  • Is anyone waiting for you to finish something?

  • What is the biggest project that your company is working on?



Note on stative verbs


Stative verbs are almost never used in the Present Continuous tense.


Stative verbs often relate to:

  • thoughts and opinions: agree, believe, doubt, guess, imagine, know, mean, recognise, remember, suspect, think, understand

  • feelings and emotions: dislike, hate, like, love, prefer, want, wish

  • senses and perceptions: appear, be, feel, hear, look, see, seem, smell, taste

  • possession and measurement: belong, have, measure, own, possess, weigh.

This means that we can use a verb in the Present Simple to refer to something that is happening; in the present – “I am in the office now”, “they think the system needs replacing completely” or “delivery costs almost twice as much currently”.


Exercise: look at the two scenes below. How many sentences can you think of to describe what each person is doing? What do you think the companies shown actually do?



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Understand the theory, but want some more practice using these tenses in real life? - message me on joel.white.english@gmail.com to discuss having personalised English lessons.

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