Knowing when to use the present continuous (aka present progressive) can be difficult. When should you use it instead of the present simple or future tenses? There are a lot of cases, but let’s talk about the two most important situations where you should use it in order to communicate more fluently and naturally.

We mostly use the present continuous for things that are happening now and for expressing future arrangements.

Things that are happening now

We use the present continuous instead of the present simple for events that are happening now. For example:

  • She can’t answer the phone because she’s taking a shower.
  • I’m writing this blog post right now.
  • I’m getting sleepy.
  • My wife’s watching TV on her laptop.
  • What are you doing right now?

It doesn’t have to be right now. It can be things we’re currently learning/practicing/working on, but don’t intend to do forever.

  • I’m currently learning Catalan. (But once I know it well I’ll stop studying it)
  • I’m working on a mobile app. (But I’ll stop and work on something else once I finish it)

Expressing future arrangements

Instead of using the future tense with «will», it’s much more common to express future plans and arrangements with the present continuous:

  • What are you doing after work today?
  • I’m going shopping.
  • This weekend we’re going to the cinema.
  • When are you going on vacation?
  • We’re going to Venice next month!

That’s it! Remember these two rules and use them while you practice English. Take the quiz at the end of this post and see how well you do.

Yes, there are more situations where we use the present continuous, but instead of memorizing a lot of rules, I recommend you listen to how native English speakers use it and imitate them. They do it naturally without knowing all the rules, and with practice, so will you! Then, once you reach an advanced level of English, you can go back and study the advanced rules and they’ll make perfect sense to you.

Present Simple vs Present Continuous

When to NOT use the present continuous

A quick review of the present simple if you don’t remember those rules. Use present simple for:

  • things that happen regularly. (E.g.: I go to the gym every day.)
  • facts. (E.g.: I don’t speak Chinese.)
  • timetables and schedules. (E.g.: The train leaves at 5:00.)
  • non-action verbs. (Verbs that state or feelings. E.g.: I like you. I know him.)

Also, not all «-ing» words indicate present continuous.

«-ing» is also used in a lot of adjectives (e.g.: interesting, boring, amazing) as well as in gerunds (e.g.: I like sleeping). We’ll talk more about those usages in another post.

Here’s the quiz! Leave a note in the comments if you have any questions!

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