Grammar, Tenses

Present Tenses

by VIDYANAND

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Present tense forms in English are of four kinds.

The Simple Present Tense

In the simple present tense, the verb is used in the stem form if the subject is plural, and in the stem + s form if the subject is singular.

For example

  • We eat rice. (stem) 
  • Ashok eats rice (stem+s)
  • They love chocolates. (stem)
  • She loves chocolates. (stem+s)

Uses of the Simple Present

The simple present tense is used to refer to ‘eternal truths’ (things that are always true or believed to be true)

For example:

  • The sun rises in the east.
  • Hydrogen is lighter than air.
  • Arteries carry blood from the heart to different parts of the body.
  • Hard work leads to success.

The simple present tense is also used to refer to ‘present truth’. (things that are true at the present time but may not be true in the future).

For example:

  • Mumbai is the business capital of Maharashtra.
  • My brother works in a rubber factory.
  • Ravi stays with his uncle and aunt.

Next, the simple present tense is used to refer to the routine or habitual activities. ( actions that are performed regularly, or every day.)

For example:

Hari gets up at 6.00 a.m. He brushes his teeth and drinks a glass of milk. Then he takes a bath and puts on his school uniform. He leaves the house at 7.00 a.m. and waits outside his house for the school bus. After lessons, he plays football or cricket with other children. He returns home at 4:30 p.m., takes off his uniform and goes out again to play with his friends.

Further, the simple present tense is used to describe objects, places, people, etc. For example:

A pressure-cooker is a metal vessel with tight-fitting lid, through which steam cannot escape. The lid has a tiny opening called a vent, over which a valve sits. Pressure cooker helps us to cook quickly.

The new Maruti-Suzuki Swift has a 4-cylinder, 1300 cc engine which produces 83 bhp. It has independent suspension on all four wheels and runs 14 kilometers on a litre of petrol.

The car costs Rs 4.2 lakh in Thiruvananthapuram.

  • The thief, who was arrested by the police, is about 165 cm in height. He has large height. He has large eyes and brown hair and he weighs about 75 kg. There is a long scar on the left side of his face.
  • The simple present tense is also used to describe or to demonstrate an action or activity which is in progress (‘going on’) at the present  time . For example:
  • Shoaib Akhtar bowls. Tendulkar hits the ball towards the square leg boundary.

Here, the simple present tense is used to talk about an action which is actually in progress at the moment of speaking. (You can see that the example is taken from a running commentary on a cricket match. However, we use the present progressive tense more often for this purpose.). You can also see this on television, for example, when an expert teaches the viewers how to cook a dish.

For example:

  • Today, I will show you how to make fish curry. First, I chop some onions and fry them in oil until they are brown. Then, I add some curry powder to the onions and heat the mixture over a low flame. Then I put in.

Exercise: [1] Fill in the blanks in the sentences below, using verbs in the simple present forms to express eternal truths.

  • Most Snakes lay (lay) eggs, but the python gives (give) birth to young ones.
  • People who work (work) for long hours in the sun often gets (get) sun burnt.
  • Computers store (store) large amount of data.
  • Magnets attract (attract) iron filings.
  • Plants produce (produce) their own food through the process of Photosynthesis. During this process, plants take in (take in) carbon-dioxide from the air and gives out (give out) oxygen.
  • Our lungs expand (expand) when we breath in (breath in) and contract (contract) when we breath out (breath out). The lungs have (have) tiny blood vessels which are called capillaries. Oxygen goes (go) directly into the blood through these capillaries. The heart pumps (pump) blood to different parts of the body.

Exercise: [2] Fill in the blanks spaces in the sentences below, using verbs in the simple present tense to show present truths.

  • Pawar lives (live) in Nagpur. He works (work) in a bank. He has (have) two children, who goes
  • (go) to an English medium school. Raghwan’s wife teaches (teach) Sanskrit in the school. His brother is (be) an artist. He paints (paint) pictures.

Exercise: [3] Describe a typical day in the life of some member of your family. Describe some things that he/she does every day a routine activities. [Homework Exercise]

The Present Progressive (continuous) Tense

In the present progressive tense, the verb is used in the progressive (stem+ing) form and some form of the verb ‘be’ (is, am, are) are in front of the verb, as a helping verb or auxiliary verb. For example:

  • My father is playing a game of chess.
  • My friends are walking to the post office.

Uses of the present progressive

The present progressive tense is used to refer to an action which is in progress at the moment of speaking. It is often used during running sports commentaries on radio or television, when commentator who is watching the match has to describe to his audience the actions that are taking place while he speaks.

For example:

  • The two Pakistani opening batsmen are going out to start the innings.  The Indian fielders are taking up their positions. The bowler is getting ready to bowl the first ball. He is walking back for the stat of his run.

The present progressive tense is also used to show that an activity is only temporary and is not expected to continue for a long time. Here is an

example.

  • Raghu is teaching art in a school in Manglore.

Here, the use of the present progressive does not necessarily indicate action in progress at the moment of speaking. Raghu may not actually inside the classroom, teaching students, when this sentence is spoken. Compare the two sentences below.

  • Raghu teaches art in a school in Manglore. (simple present)
  • Raghu is teaching art in a school in Manglore. (present progressive tense)

The use of the simple present in the first sentence indicates that teaching art is Raghu’s permanent profession. On the other hand, the progressive suggests that Raghu has taken up the job only temporarily, and is doing it during the present period of time. Here is another example.

  • Raghu teaches mathematics, but this year he is teaching geography.

In a sentence above, we see a contrast between a long-term activity and a more short-term one.

The present progressive is sometimes used to indicate action in the future. Here is an example.

  • I am starting a new business next year.

As mentioned earlier, there are several different ways of indicating future activity, and using the present progressive is one of them. It has a rather special meaning, which we shall examine later, when we talk about the different ways of referring to future activity.

Exercise: [4] Fill in blanks in the dialogues below, using the present progressive tense. A.

  • Teacher: Ravi, what are you doing?
  • Ravi: I am reading (read) a story book, Ma’am.
  • Teacher: Do you think you should be doing that now when your classmates are making (make)  their presentation?

B. Mother: The telephone is ringing (ring). Will you answer it?

Seema: I am sorry, but I can’t, Mother. I am taking (take) a bath.

Exercise: [5] Fill in the blanks in the paragraphs below, using the present progressive tense forms of the verbs in brackets.

  • My uncle, who lives in Varanasi is visiting (visit) the state. He is spending (spend) a week in a village near Nagpur. He is travelling (travel) all over the state by bus, although it is his first trip to the place.
  • Mohan fell ill and went to see a doctor, who advised him to be careful about his diet and to take plenty of exercise. So now Mohan is drinking (drink) a litre of milk every day. He is eating (eat) plenty of fruit and is going (go) for a walk in the park every morning.
  • The president of India is arriving (arrive) in Kolkata next week. Everyone is busy preparing for his visit. Workers are cleaning up (clean up) the streets. Painters are painting (paint) the buildings. 
  • I live in Chennai, where the coffee is excellent. But I am spending (spend) a week in Delhi. I can’t get filter coffee here, so I am drinking (drink) tea instead. I am eating (eat) chapatis instead of idlis and quite like change.

F. The Republic Day parade has begun. The soldiers are marching (march) into the stadium. The president is taking (take) the salute and all the other guests are standing up (stand up) to honour the national flag. The military band is playing (play) the national anthem. 

The Present Perfect Tense

In the present perfect tense, the verb is used in the past participle form, while either ‘have’ or

‘has’ is used in front of it as a helping verb.  For example

  • The child has eaten a biscuit.
  • The boys have gone to school.
  • I have given away all the books.

Uses of the present perfect tense

The use of the present perfect tense shows that an action was completed sometimes in the past (usually in recent past) and, further, that the completed action has some kind of relevance to the present moment of the speech. (The word perfect tells us that the action is complete)

The present perfect tense is thus the opposite of the present progressive, which is used to show an action is not complete but is still in progress at the time of speaking. The example below shows this contrast between the present progressive and the present perfect.

  • Mother: Usha, what are you doing?
  • Usha: I am doing my homework, Mother. (Present progressive)
  • (Half an hour later)
  • Mother: Usha, are you still doing your homework?
  • Usha: No, Mother. I have done it. (Present perfect)

The present perfect tense does not tell us when an action was performed. Strictly speaking, it has no time reference. For example

  • He has read The God of Small Things.

We are not told when the action of reading the book was performed. But we can guess that it was performed sometime in the past. Look at another example.

  • I have been to New York.

Again, we are not told when the speaker went to New York but we understand that it must have been sometime in the past.

However, what is suggested is that although the action was performed in the past, its effect remains at the present time.

  • He has read The God of Small Things (and he remembers the story clearly).
  • I have been to New York (and I can recommend a hotel there, for example).
  • I have cleaned the table. (It is clean now)

Exercises: [6]. Fill in the blanks in the sentences below, using the present perfect tense.

  • Mother: Rima, are you ready to go to school?
  • Rima: Yes, mother. I have brushed (brush) my teeth. I have combed (comb) my hair. I have packed (pack) my books in my school bag.
  • Mother: What about your breakfast?
  • Rima: I have eaten (eat) my breakfast already.
  • Mother: Good girl! Well, your bus has come (come). Bye, Rima.
  • Rima:  Bye, Mother!

Exercise: [7]. The following scene takes place in a school. An inspection team is to visit the school on the next day and everyone is busy cleaning the place. The headmaster is questioning one of the students to find out how much work has been done. Fill in the blanks in the dialogue, using the given verbs in the present perfect tense.

  • Headmaster: Are the classrooms clean?
  • Student: Yes sir, we have washed (wash) the floors with water.
  • Headmaster: What about the furniture?
  • Student: We have wiped (wipe) all the desks and benches. There is no dust on them.
  • Headmaster: And the banners? Are they in place?
  • Student: Yes sir. We have put up (put up) the banners on the walls.
  • Headmaster: What about the invitations?
  • Student: We have sent out (send out) all the invitations to guests as well as to parents.
  • Headmaster: Good. Is someone going to take photograph?
  • Student: Yes sir. We have arranged for (arrange for) a photographer.
  • Headmaster: Excellent. You seem to have done a good job. 

The present perfect progressive tense

The present perfect progressive tense is, as the name suggests, a combination of the present perfect and the present progressive tenses, in form as well as in meaning. Here is an example.

  • Sheila has been teaching in this school since 25 July 2004.

Notice that the verb (‘teach’) s in the -ing form used in the progressive tense, but there are two helping verbs that come before it. The first is a form of ‘have’ (‘have/‘has’), followed by ‘been’, which is the past participle form of ‘be’. The presence of the progressive form (‘teaching’) suggests action in the progress, while the presence of the participle (‘has been’) suggests completed action. The combination of the present progressive and the present perfect tenses tells us that:

  • the action began at some point in the past (25 July 2004);
  • the action has continued without a break until the present moment (the moment of speaking) There are more examples in the following:
  • Mahesh has been playing tennis for the last two hours and he is tired.  The boys have been waiting to see the principal since 7.00 a.m.

In the first sentence, Mahesh started playing tennis two hours ago and is playing even at the present moment. In the second sentence too, the wait began in the past and continues into the present.

The prepositions ‘since’ and ‘for’ are often used with verbs in the present perfect progressive tense. ‘Since’ is used to refer to the point of time (in the past) at which the action has been in progress. For example:

  • I have been living in Delhi since 1988.
  • I have been living in Delhi for 18 years.

The present perfect progressive is used to highlight the continuity of an action. In both the sentences above, the speaker wants to convey that there has been no break or interruption in the act of ‘living’ in Delhi. Note that ‘since’ cannot be used to indicate a period of time. Mistakes of the following type are thus very common. (He has been teaching since fourteen years.)

Finally, note the difference between ‘He is playing tennis’ (present progressive). And ‘He has been playing tennis’ (present perfect progressive). The present progressive tells us that the action is in progress now; it says nothing about when the action began. The present perfect progressive, on the other hand, indicates that the action began in the past and has continued until the present time.

Exercises: [8]. Fill in the blanks in the sentences below, using the given verbs in the simple present, present progressive, present perfect or present perfect progressive tenses, as required.

  1. My brother is a writer. He writes (write) novels. He has been writing (write) novels since 1990 and has written (write) 15 novels so far.
  2. I love learning languages. I have been learning (learn) different languages since I was in school. So far, I have learnt (learn) eight languages. I am learning (learn) Japanese now. C. Rajeev: Where do you live, Babu?
  • Babu: I live (live) in Rajkot.
  • Rajeev: Rajkot? I thought you were from Surat.
  • Babu: Yes, I was born in Surat, but I have moved (move) to Rajkot now. I have been (be) there since 1999 and I have built (built) a house there.
  • Rajeev: Do you work in Rajkot?
  • Babu: Yes, I teach/am teaching (teach) in a school there. My wife works there too, but this year she is doing (do) a teacher training course in Ahmedabad. Her school has given (give) her a year’s leave.
  • Rajeev: Does she write to you?
  • Babu: Oh yes, she has been writing (write) to me regularly. She also talks (talk) to the children on the telephone every night. She misses (miss) them very much.