Present Continuous Tense – Definition and Concept

We have already defined the tense of the verb as the time of occurrence or execution of the verb with respect to the time of making the statement. One of the three tenses of the verb is the present tense, which is further classified into four types.

The Present Continuous tense is that tense of the verb which is used when the verb is occurring or is in progress at the same time in which the statement is being made. A few examples below:

  • The union is meeting
  • She is performing to her potential.
  • I am expecting a full house at the multiplex.

Present continuous tense is used to signify activities that is occurring now or is in progress. Thus, verbs expressed in the present continuous tense are very frequently modified by adverbs of frequency or time. [A]

At the end of this article, the reader should be able to:

  • Understand the basic idea of Present Continuous Tense
  • Understand Subject-Verb agreement for the Present Continuous Tense
  • Understand the influence of auxiliaries and modals on Subject-Verb agreement
  • Study Present Continuous Tense in the Passive Voice
  • Study the Interrogative and Negative forms of sentences in the Present Continuous Tense

Present Continuous Tense

As we’ve discussed above, Present Continuous Tense is used to describe activities that are in progress at the time of statement. Let us take a few more examples to understand the idea:

  • The board is thinking that you’re delusional.
  • I am reaching the dormitory now.
  • The guests are arriving at the apartment.
  • Are you coming here today?

In each of the examples, we note how the verb shows the state of action or being of the noun or pronoun as being in progress at the same time as the statement. Thus all of the verbs in these examples are in the Present Continuous Tense.

Subject Verb Agreement (Noun-Verb agreement)

In the Present Continuous Tense, Subject-Verb agreement is where we learn the general form of the verb for different nouns and pronouns. Since we have three persons (first, second and third) and two numbers (singular and plural) we study the different forms of the verb for all the six combinations:

First Person

  • I am coming to your place. (First person singular)
  • I am taking the readings now. (First person singular)
  • We are presenting our arguments. (First person plural)
  • We are anticipating a big contest here. (First person plural)

In each of the examples above, we see that the present continuous tense of verbs usually take the present participle form of the verb, with the same form for both singular and plural first person pronouns, apart from the auxiliary.

First Person Singular form:

Pronoun + singular present form of auxiliary (am) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

First Person Plural form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (are) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

Second Person

  • You are being a pessimist.
  • You are taking the lead.
  • Are you completing the targets today?

In each of the examples above, we see that the present continuous tense of verbs usually take the present participle form of the verb, with the same form for both singular and plural second person pronouns, along with the plural form of the auxiliary.

Second Person Singular form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (are) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

Second Person Plural form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (are) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

Third Person

Nouns are generally in the third person, while pronouns can be of all persons. So nouns take the same form of the verb as third person pronouns. Examples include:

  • He is emerging as a spin bowler for the national side. (Third person singular pronoun)
  • It is growing all over the place. (Third person singular pronoun)
  • They are bringing the party home tonight. (Third person plural pronoun)
  • The Dalai Lama currently is residing in India. (Singular noun)
  • These machines presently are processing 35 bottles per minute. (Plural noun)

In each of the examples above, we see that the present continuous tense of verbs usually take the present participle form of the verb, with the same form for both singular and plural third person pronouns and nouns, apart from the auxiliary.

Third Person Singular form:

Noun/Pronoun + singular present form of auxiliary (is) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Noun/Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

Third Person Plural form:

Noun/Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (are) + Present Participle form of Verb OR

Noun/Pronoun + modal + root form (be) + Present Participle form of Verb

Auxiliaries and Modals in Present Continuous Tense

Auxiliaries and modals have the same function in a sentence: assist the verb. While auxiliaries change with the tense of the verb, modals do not.

Auxiliaries

Different forms of the auxiliary be are used with the Present participle verb across all forms of nouns and pronouns. We have already understood these forms in the previous section. Let us study these forms in particular now.

  • I am taking the readings now. (First person singular taking singular present form am)
  • We are anticipating a big contest. (First person plural taking plural present form are)
  • You are being a pessimist. (Second person taking plural present form are)
  • It is growing all over the place. (Third person singular taking singular present form is)
  • They are bringing the party home tonight. (Third person plural taking plural present form are)
  • The manager is leaving the company. (Singular noun taking singular present form is)
  • The board members are proposing a merger. (Plural noun taking plural present form are)

Modals

Modals however can be used to enhance the meaning of the verb. Upon using a modal with the verb in the Present Continuous form, the auxiliary verb is reduced to its root form.

Let us take a few examples:

  • The board is thinking that you’re delusional.
  • I am reaching the dormitory now.
  • The guests are arriving at the apartment.

Now, observe the effect of addition of a modal:

  • The board might be thinking that you’re delusional.
  • I could be reaching the dormitory now.
  • The guests may be arriving at the apartment.

Each of these modals effectively reduces the auxiliary to the root form be. Hence we have different rules for present continuous tense with the inclusion of modals. We study the Passive Voice in the next section.

Present Continuous Tense in Passive Voice

A sentence or a verb is in active voice when the subject is the executioner of the verb, while passive voice is when the subject is the recipient of the verb. With a change in voice, all pronouns and nouns take different forms of the verb. We explore that in this section.

From every type of person and number, we pick one example each from the previous sections.

First Person

  • Active: I am taking the readings now. (First person singular)
  • Passive: The readings are being taken (by me)
  • Active: We are anticipating a big contest here. (First person plural)
  • Passive: A big contest is being anticipated (by us)

Second Person

  • Active: Are you completing the targets today?
  • Passive: Are the targets being completed today?

Third Person

  • Active: These machines presently are processing 35 bottles per minute. (Plural noun)
  • Passive: 35 bottles are being processed presently per minute.
  • Active: They are bringing the party home tonight. (Third person plural pronoun)
  • Passive: The party is being brought home tonight.

We make the following observations:

  • The primary verb takes the past participle form in the passive voice.
  • The number of the object/predicate (not the subject) influences the auxiliary verb in passive form.
  • The present participle form being is added to the main verb.
  • The present form of the auxiliary verb be is always added to the verb.

Thus the formation of the passive form of a verb in the present continuous tense would be

For all nouns/pronouns:

Noun/Pronoun + Present form of Auxiliary + being + Past Participle form of Verb OR

Noun/Pronoun + modal + Root form of Auxiliary + being + Past Participle form of Verb

Interrogative Sentences in Present Continuous Tense

Here, we study the rearrangement of words of a sentence with a change in type to interrogative sentences. Let us begin with a few examples from the previous sections:

  • I am taking the readings now.
  • You are taking the lead.
  • It is growing all over the place.
  • They are bringing the party home tonight.
  • The board might be thinking that you’re delusional.
  • You could be reaching the dormitory now.

 

The above sentences make a regular statement or what we call assert. Hence these are examples of assertive sentences. Let us now put these into the interrogative form:

  • Am I taking the readings now?
  • Are you taking the lead?
  • Is it growing all over the place?
  • Are they bringing the party home tonight?
  • Might the board be thinking that you’re delusional?
  • Could you be reaching the dormitory now?

The Observations:

From the above examples, we make the following inferences:

  • The interrogative form of the sentence begins with the auxiliary verb, if the modal is absent.
  • The interrogative form of the sentence begins with the modal verb, if it is present.

Thus the different interrogative forms of assertive sentences use the following formations:

  • Auxiliary (Present form) + Subject Noun/Pronoun + Present Participle form of the verb (No modal)
  • Modal + Subject Noun/Pronoun + Root form of Auxiliary + Present Participle form of the verb (Modal Present)

Negative Sentences in the Present Continuous Tense

What happens when we change the form of assertive sentences from positive to negative form?

Let us take the examples above again:

  • I am taking the readings now.
  • You are taking the lead.
  • It is growing all over the place.
  • They are bringing the party home tonight.
  • The board might be thinking that you’re delusional.
  • I could be reaching the dormitory now.

When we convert them into the negative form, we get:

  • I am not taking the readings now.
  • You are not taking the lead.
  • It is not growing all over the place.
  • They are not bringing the party home tonight.
  • The board might not be thinking that you’re delusional.
  • I could not be reaching the dormitory now.

The Observations:

From the above examples, we make the following inferences:

  • The negative not occupies its place between the auxiliary and the main verb, if the modal is absent.
  • The negative not occupies its place between the modal and the root form of auxiliary, if the modal is present.

Thus the different interrogative forms of assertive sentences use the following formations:

  • Subject Noun/Pronoun + present form of auxiliary + not + Present Participle form of verb
  • Subject Noun/Pronoun + modal + not + root form of auxiliary + Present Participle form of verb