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What is the Present Tense? (Forms of the Present Tense)

Want to make tense, sense? The present tense has 4 main forms: the present simple, present continuous, present perfect, and present perfect continuous. Learn more about them, here.

What’s the present tense?

‍To communicate about something that’s happening in the moment, is ongoing, habitual/recurring, or just a general truth, we use the present tense.

The present tense has four main forms, each has its own way to denote time or duration of when something happens:

  1. simple present tense
  2. present continuous tense
  3. present perfect tense
  4. present perfect continuous tense

4 forms of the present tense

tenseexamples: forms of the present tense
simple presentI study at school.
present continuous I am studying at school.
present perfectI have studied at school.
present perfect continuousI have been studying at school.
Forms of the present tense

What are verb tenses?

English comprises the 8 main parts of speech, one of which are verbs. Verbs are action words that express when something happens: whether its in the present, past or future.

A verb’s tense (in particular), specify when actions happen, and at which point in time they did occur, or will occur.

Tenses, and verb conjugations are the “form of a verb showing time of an action or state”. By ‘form of a verb’, this means spelling, and its proper syntax based on the verb’s appropriate tense.

Uses of the simple present tense

  • Use the simple present tense to describe “[actions] which are happening now”.

  • To speak about general truths or facts (e.g., ‘I love chocolate‘, or ‘she’s a therapist‘).

  • To describe something habitual or recurring, (‘we play golf most weekends, weather depending!‘; ‘I walk the dog in the mornings‘).

The simple present tense uses the simplest/base form of the verb (it’s the spelling that shows up in the dictionary when you look up the word: play, eat, sleep, etc.)

Uses of the present continuous tense

Broadly speaking, we use the  present continuous (also known as the present progressive) shows actions as ongoing or in-progress, and to emphasize duration.

1. The boys are playing in the park.

2. The baby is crying out loud.

3. It is raining outside.

4. I am cooking pasta for lunch.

5. Miss Singh is teaching the class.

The present continuous is a form of the present tense that uses the present participle form of the verb ending –ing. Because the present participle is a participle form a verb, they always pair with auxiliary verbs in sentences, though they play the coordinate role.

In other words, we form the present continuous with an [auxiliary, form of ‘to be’] + [present participle]. “It’s raining”, is in the present continuous tense (and describes what’s happening at the moment).

Compare these sentences:

I cook pasta for lunch. (present simple)

I am cooking pasta for lunch. (present continuous)

The first sentence makes it sound like you have pasta for lunch every day. And that’s because the simple present tense perhaps doesn’t work in this context.

If what you want to communicate is occurring in the present and immediate moment: this is when we use the present continuous tense. The present continuous is occurring right now, and is continuing to occur as we speak. For example: you are reading an article on the present continuous tense, while existing in the present continuous tense.

What’s the present perfect tense?

‍The present perfect tense shows an action that began in the past, but continues or relates to the present time (though it may have been recently completed or finished).

1. I‘ve lived in Toronto since 1984.

2. We have shopped in this market before.

3. He has read all kinds of books.

4. My mom has cooked food.

5. I have planted some plants in my garden.

We create the past perfect by joining the past tense auxiliary, had, with the past participle form of the verb (eaten, written, hidden, and so on). The past perfect shows events that began in the past though still are relevant and exist at present. (e.g. ‘I have lived in Toronto since 1984′ is present (have), though having commenced in the past.)

What’s the present perfect continuous?

1. I have been studying for three hours before I took a break.

2. She has been practicing the piano for weeks before the recital.

3. They have been waiting in line for two hours before the store opened.

4. He has been working on the project for months before it was canceled.

5. We have been hiking for hours before we reached the summit.

The present perfect continuous is formed by combining have/has + been + present participle. The present perfect continuous shows an action as beginning at a point in the past, but continuing into the present.

Keep on learning! It’s encouraged.


  1. Harper Douglas, “Etymology of tense,” Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed March 8, 2023,
  2. P.C. Wren and Martin’s English Grammar and Composition.

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