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Exams often require students to give examples of the vocabulary and grammar they have learned — using complete sentences. It is a common mistake for learners to give examples in the present simple, when the sentence should actually be written in another tense. The present simple is most commonly used for regular actions — habits; things we do often. For example:
- I drink coffee every day.
- Mark plays football at weekends.
- We study English on Mondays and Wednesdays.
It isn’t necessary to state the frequency of the action in order to communicate that the action is performed on a regular basis:
- She reads many books.
- He goes to the gym.
- Louise plays the piano.
We can use the present simple with verbs that are not used in continuous tenses: these are known as non-continuous verbs. These verbs tend to describe emotions and states, rather than actions. The verb ‘like’ is an example of a non-continuous verb. We don’t say ‘Harry is not liking tomatoes’, for instance.
(NB: there has been a trend — in the last ten to fifteen years or so — for some people to use the verbs ‘like’ and ‘love’ in the continuous tense; however this is not standard usage. It’s often used by ‘hipsters’ — a young-adult subculture similar to bohemianism — when they admire something at a particular time, e.g ‘I’m liking your new attitude’ or ‘I’m loving that purple dress.’)
Another (generally) non-continuous verb is ‘to be’. If we wish to describe our emotional condition, we use the present simple:
- I am happy in my relationship.
- She is sad that you are leaving.
If we wish to express an opinion, we use the present simple:
- I think that’s a good idea.
- I don’t think he is right for you.
Perhaps the best example is with the verb ‘to mean’:
This word means… (not ‘is meaning’)
Sometimes we need to detail a process or routine. If someone asks us what a typical day at work consists of, we would use the present simple to list the sequence of actions, not the present continuous:
- I arrive at work at 9am, make a cup of coffee then check my emails. I write a report for my boss on the previous day’s activity, then I hold a meeting with senior staff, etc.
We can also talk about less personal things that are always true:
- The sun sets in the west.
- Dogs chase cats.
- People fall in love all the time.
So far we’ve looked at how the present simple is used for general times. Did you know that we can also use it for the future? Let’s look at how.
If we are talking about a scheduled event — something that has been arranged — we can use the present simple. This is for fixed arrangements such as meetings, train times, and so on:
- The last train leaves at 11.55pm.
- The class starts at 10am.
- The meeting begins at 7pm.
The present simple is mostly used in this context for transportation. However, as we saw with the second and third examples, it can be used for other situations as well.
One final use of the present simple is in future time clauses. A time clause is a group of words with a subject and a main verb, that tells us when an action occurs. For example:
- After we finish the exam, we can leave.
‘After we finish…’ is the time clause. Again, note that we use the present simple, even though we are referring to the future. We cannot use the future tense in future time clauses. We can use the present simple as well as other present tenses.
Try our blog test on the present simple.
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