Author Topic: How present simple sentences differ from present continuous sentences  (Read 15421 times)

Joe Carillo

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Question posted by Forum member Coolpipes in my Personal Messages box (April 21, 2018):

Dear Mr. Carillo,

Good morning. I would just like to consult with you my grammar dilemma concerning the present simple and present continuous. I am not sure whether the sentence "X is studying at the University of the Philippines" is wrong. Should it be written using present simple tense instead? I always think that present continuous would be the right tense of the verb to use because of the limited duration the first sentence connotes (X won't be studying at UP for a long time after all). Hope you could enlighten me on this. Thank you.
 
Best regards,
Pipes

My reply to Coolpipes:

I've finally found time to gather and focus my thoughts about your question on whether the sentence you presented, "X is studying at the University of the Philippines," is wrong. As I told you last night, the summer heat must have gotten the better of me, as result of which I misread and misunderstood the subject of your question as--of all things off-tangent!--about the difference between the present tense and the present perfect.

(Just for context about my predicament, the aircon unit of my home office and study room conked out a few days ago and the aircon technician who finally came to check it the other day declared its compressor dead. My wife and I will be looking around for a replacement aircon tomorrow--it's her day off--and we hope to get it installed and purring by Wednesday at the earliest.)


Now back to your question, whose disruptive subject "X" I've now replaced with a person's name to make its semantics and sense clear and more focused: "Amelia is studying at the University of the Philippines." With that change to a human subject, we can say with confidence that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that sentence in the present continuous or, in the grammatical term that I personally prefer, the present progressive tense. The sense evoked by this present continuous sentence is that of an action that's happening at the present moment in time but that's expected to finish or wind up sometime in the foreseeable future. Another way of saying this is that the present continuous tense is used for an ongoing action in the present.

That sense of an ongoing action at the present moment is entirely different from that evoked by the simple present-tense counterpart of that sentence: "Amelia studies at the University of the Philippines." Here, the simple present tense is used to declare an action or activity that Amelia does all or most of the time or at least for an extended period of time. Aside from this, of course, the simple present tense is used to declare permanent facts and general truths, or things that are not expected to change for a long period of time, as in the following examples:

1. "The Earth is ovaloid in shape." (general truth)
2. "The Moon revolves around planet Earth." (general truth)
3. "Jose Rizal is the Philippine national hero." (national tradition)

Now to that intriguing question of yours and its accompanying presumption: Should the sentence "Amelia is studying at the University of the Philippines" be written instead using the present simple tense; that is, as "Amelia studies at the University of the Philippines"?

My answer is yes, the present simple sentence "Amelia studies at the University of the Philippines" is perfectly acceptable from the standpoint of tense, but the sense will be entirely different--that of "Amelia using some nook, place or facility at the University of the Philippines for studying a particular lesson," as opposed to the present continuous sense in the original sentence of "Amelia engaging in the formal study of a particular course at the University of the Philippines for the required number of years."

I must add here that to highlight or dramatize the semantic distinctions in sense between simple present tense and present continuous sentences using the same operative verb, English takes recourse to the frequency adverbs (often, always, sometimes, seldom, rarely, etc.) and time expressions (now, at the moment, these days, nowadays, etc.). Very often, the intended sense will emerge or become clear-cut only when these frequency adverbs and time expressions are used. This is something that you might want to also look into to gain greater mastery in constructing simple present and present continuous sentences.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2018, 05:20:22 PM by Joe Carillo »

Coolpipes

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Re: How present simple sentences differ from present continuous sentences
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2018, 04:44:28 PM »
Thank you for your reply, Sir Joe. I greatly appreciate it.

Good day!

-Coolpipes