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What Is the Present Tense?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The present tense is a verb tense that is typically used to indicate that some type of action is currently happening; the simple form usually indicates that something is happening in the present and that it is an unchanging or recurring action. Present progressive tense can be used to indicate that an action is currently occurring at the moment in which it is being stated, though it need not indicate future or past actions. The present perfect tense is used to indicate that an action began in the past and has been continuing, and it is still occurring or has just stopped. There is also a present perfect progressive form of the present tense, which indicates that an action started in the past, is ongoing, and is likely to keep going into the future.

While the present tense itself is not terribly difficult to use, it may be somewhat confusing in its numerous forms. The most basic type of this tense is referred to as simple present tense. This is usually created in English by stating a subject with a verb, which may require an auxiliary verb and other components to form a full predicate, depending on the verb used. “I sing,” “He runs,” “We dance” and “They eat pizza” are all examples of this simple present tense, which indicate something that is ongoing or which happens repeatedly.

The present progressive is a form of present tense in which a particular action is stated to be happening in the moment. “I sing” can mean an ongoing action, such as “I sing in the choir,” but does not necessarily indicate that it is happening in that moment. “I am singing,” on the other hand, is the present progressive form and means the “I” is singing in that moment. This form usually includes an auxiliary verb, such as “am” or “are,” and the verb often ends in “-ing,” such as “He is running” or “We are dancing.”

Similar in some respects to the simple present tense, the present perfect tense is used to indicate that an action began in the past, but has either stopped or continues to occur in the present. “I have sung,” for example, is in the present perfect tense and indicates that the action has happened in the past but may continue still. “I have sung every day since I was a child” indicates not only past action, but implies the action is likely ongoing in the present. “He has run each day this week” and “We have danced for hours” are also examples of this form.

There is also a present tense form called the present perfect progressive, which indicates that an ongoing action has occurred in a way similar to the present perfect, but then more directly extends that action into the present and the future. This form is usually created as a combination of the present progressive and present perfect forms, but with the word “been” used between the auxiliary and main verb. “I have been singing” is an example of this form, which shows that the action began in the past, is ongoing, and is likely to continue. “He has been running every day this week” and “We have been dancing for hours” both indicate past and present action and anticipate that the action is likely to continue.

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Discussion Comments

By wiesen — On Dec 13, 2011

I'd say most people know what it is intrinsically or subconsciously, but thinking about it and being able to describe it are different. Anyone who can read this already knows what it is, but not everyone can necessarily identify it.

By anon234167 — On Dec 10, 2011

I think you actually need to know what present tense is in order to ask this question.

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