Grammar Tips: Using the Present Tense
  • 4-minute read
  • 29th March 2018

Grammar Tips: Using the Present Tense

“Carpe diem” is a Latin phrase often translated as “seize the day.” It’s used to urge people to appreciate the present moment instead of thinking about the past or future too much. And in that spirit, we’ve written this blog post about using the present tense.

“Carp diem,” meanwhile, means “Be a fish for the day.”

After all, you certainly won’t be “seizing the day” if you spend all your time worrying about errors in your writing. So, do yourself a favor and seize this grammatical advice instead.

Simple Present

The simplest form of the present tense is, appropriately, called the “simple present” tense. This is possibly the most common grammatical tense in English, as we use it to describe:

  • Current facts (e.g., I live in Chicago.)
  • General truths (e.g., Many people live in Chicago.)
  • Things that happen regularly (e.g., The bus arrives in Chicago at 8am.)
  • Things due to happen at a fixed time in the future (e.g., The festival begins in July.)

The base verb form is usually correct in the simple present tense. However, the verb form changes slightly in when writing in the singular third person. For example:

First Person: I live in Chicago.

Second Person: You live in Chicago.

Third Person: He/she lives in Chicago.

As above, when using the third-person singular, an extra “s” is added to the base verb.

Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is used to describe an ongoing or incomplete action. It is formed by combining “am,” “is,” or “are” with a present participle. For example:

I am learning Latin.

They are going to the beach.

She is dancing on the ceiling.

All of these examples emphasize an ongoing or incomplete process. But they’re also things that have an endpoint or where progress can be made, not steady states of affairs (e.g., I live in Chicago) or general truths (e.g., Rain is wet) that don’t change over time.

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Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is used for actions that happened at an unspecified time in the past:

We have visited New York twice.

It can also be used to describe actions that began in the past and continue into the present (or that happened in the past and continue to be true in the present):

She has lived here since she was young.

In both cases, the present perfect tense combines “has” or “have” with a past participle.  Most past participles, including “visited” and “lived” above, are formed by adding “-ed” to the end of a base verb. However, keep an eye out for irregular verbs that don’t follow this pattern. For instance:

The leaves have fallen from the trees.

In this case, since “fall” is an irregular verb, we use the past participle “fallen” (not “falled”).

Present Perfect Continuous

Finally, we have the present perfect continuous tense, which combines elements of the present perfect and present continuous tenses. As such, it’s used to describe ongoing actions that began in the past. We indicate this by combining “has been” or “have been” with a present participle:

I have been waiting for the last half hour.

Here, for example, “have been waiting” describes an ongoing process of waiting, but with an emphasis on how long the speaker has been there. This makes it distinct from the present perfect “I am waiting.”

Hopefully that clears up how different present tense forms are used. If you want to make sure your writing is error free, though, embrace the spirit of “carpe diem” and have your work proofread today.

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