Simple Present, Present Continuous & Simple Past
It may surprise you to hear this, but the great majority of students of English that we come across have difficulty consistently producing the 3 main structures for the 3 main verb tenses – Simple Present, Present Continuous and Simple Past. This reflects how easy it is to trip over these structures when speaking - especially if you are not using your English much day-to-day.
We use the Simple Present for habits or characteristics in general.
Example: I often eat out at week-ends. São Paulo is a very busy city.
Note: to be busy is a link verb. More on link verbs below on the Verb Tense page).
Simple Present (habits/in general) – e.g. verb to go
Example: My wife and I go to the beach every week-end but our son doesn’t always go with us. And you? Do you go to the beach very often?
We use the Present Continuous for actions that are in progress. The verb tense gives no indication of when the action started or when it will finish, only that it is in progress now.
Example: I am drinking some water while I write. I’m also reading a book about The Medici.
Even though I’m not reading the book at the moment of typing, the action is still unfinished/in progress – later today I’ll read some more of the book.
Present Continuous (actions in progress) – to go
Example: My wife is texting on her cell phone, but I’m not texting right now, I’m writing this example. What are you doing?
We use the Simple Past for past actions or habits, typically giving a time indicator such as yesterday, last night, on Tuesday, in June, in 2018, etc. Once the context is clear however, it is not necessary to keep repeating the time indicator.
Example: I saw my sister last week-end. We talked about the time we went to New Orleans before she got married.
Simple Past (single past action or past habit) – to go
Example: I went to watch football last night, but my wife didn’t go? Did you go out yesterday?
Things to focus on and practice (most common errors)
in the Simple Present the third person singular (he/she/it) is different (goes/does/speaks/thinks etc) so subconsciously treat he/she/it as ‘flag words’ and pay them special attention.
the subject and the auxiliary verbs switch places for questions. And try not to forget the auxiliary verb when asking a question – it is easy to do!
in the Simple Past there are many ‘irregular’ verbs, which follow several different patterns when used in the past tense and unfortunately they are best learnt through a process of memorization and practice (ideally you should listen to the word being spoken as you memorize the spelling – Google translate offers this option).