Continuing our look at the tenses, here’s a practice exercise to compare uses of the present simple and the present continuous tenses. These uses are covered in full detail in The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide, but this brief summary should help. Let’s start with a quick recap of what each tense is used for:
Uses of the Present Simple
Here are the most common uses of the present simple, and how to recognise when we use it:
- General facts – used when talking about rules, or things that have no set time.
- Repeated events – used for regular activities, often with adverbs of frequency such as usually, often, every …, sometimes, always.
- States – used with senses, and state verbs such as to be, exist, understand, know, smell, taste, feel.
- Commentaries and storytelling – used when reciting a plot, or giving a description of fast-moving current events (like sports).
- Spoken actions – used for announcements and official verbs such as declare, announce, propose, arrest.
Uses of Present Continuous
Here are the most common uses of the present continuous, and how to recognise them:
- Temporary events or actions – used to show an event is happening now, for a limited time, often with adverbs like now, at the moment.
- Changes or developing states – used for a current process, with verbs such as become, decrease, develop, decline, increase.
- Habitual action – sometimes used to stress a repeated action, for instance when irritated with it.
The following exercise tests recognising the difference between present simple and present continuous.
Present Simple or Present Continuous Exercise
Complete the following sentences with either the present simple or the present continuous, using the information provided.
- I __________ (wash) my car ever Tuesday.
- I wash my car every Tuesday. (repeated event)
- She’s frustrated because she __________. (always / clean up)
- The beach __________ crowded today. (be)
- It __________ dark, I don’t think we should walk home. (get)
- They usually __________ in the dining room. (eat)
- When you flick a switch, the light __________ on. (come)
- This cheese __________ awful. (smell)
- “I __________ this store open!” (declare)
- I’m always looking for new books to read. (habitual action)
- Our grandparents __________ twice a month. (visit)
- They say actions __________ louder than words. (speak)
- The swimmers __________ for the gold medal. (compete)
- Gary is not home, he __________ the dog. (walk)
- “I __________ we take a different route home. (propose)
- Seagull numbers __________ because tourists __________ food around. (increase, leave)
- Look, that tree __________ in the wind! (sway)
- She’s frustrated because she is always cleaning up. (habitual action)
- The beach is crowded today. (state)
- It is getting dark, I don’t think we should walk home. (changing state)
- They usually eat in the dining room. (repeated event)
- When you flick a switch, the light comes on. (general fact)
- This cheese smells awful. (state)
- “I declare this store open!” (spoken action)
- I am always looking for new books to read. (habitual action)
- Our grandparents visit twice a month. (repeated event)
- They say actions speak louder than words. (general fact)
- The swimmers are competing for the gold medal. (temporary event)
- “I propose we take a different route home. (spoken action)
- Gary is not home, he is walking the dog. (temporary action)
- Seagull numbers are increasing because tourists are leaving food around. (changing state, temporary action)
- Look, that tree is swaying in the wind! (temporary action)