Although the present simple tense has the word “present” in it, it does not really refer to a present time frame.
In this lesson, learn the different uses of the present simple tense, particularly what time frames it refers to.
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The Time Frame of the Present Simple Tense
We call this verb tense “the present simple tense” only to distinguish it from other verb tenses. Although it has “present” in its name, it does not really refer to a present time frame.
Just think about it: A present time frame is happening right now. The present simple tense is not used to express what is happening now. Then what does the present simple tense express?
Uses of the Present Simple Tense
We use the present simple tense to express:
- general ideas,
- things that happen repeatedly,
- the frequency of states, actions, or events,
- planned or scheduled events in the future, and also
- with stative verbs and
- with performative verbs.
Expressing General Ideas
- The present simple expressing general ideas
- Raising a child is a lot of responsibility and costs a great deal of money.
- Prices tend to increase when a product becomes scarce.
- When you compare living in a small town to living in a large city, you realize that each has its advantages and its disadvantages.
- The present simple expressing facts
- The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
- Cairo, the capital of Egypt, means “The Victorious” in Arabic.
- The United States shares a border with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
- Corn consists primarily of insoluble fiber, which makes it a low-glycemic food that does not cause an unhealthy spike in blood sugar.
Expressing Repeated States, Actions, or Events
- The present simple expressing repeated states, actions, or events
- Healthy people exercise regularly.
- Our work shift starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.
- In this course, quizzes always open on a Friday, remain available a week, and close at the end of the day on Saturday the following week.
- Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November each year. Many families cook a traditional dinner that includes turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.
- This tree blooms in May. It loses its leaves between September and October every year.
Expressing the Frequency of States, Actions, or Events
- The present simple expressing the frequency of states, actions, or events
- Healthy people exercise regularly.
- Summer classes meet four times a week.
- Americans do not drink tea as often as the British do; however, on average they drink at least one cup of coffee every day.
- The City’s Sanitation Department collects the garbage once a week and residential recycling every other week.
Expressing Planned or Scheduled Future Events
As mentioned earlier, the present simple does not express something happening now. It can even be used to express something that is going to happen in the future when it is planned or scheduled.
- The present simple expressing planned or scheduled events
- This course starts on Monday and ends at the end of the month.
- Our flight to Chicago leaves at 7 a.m. tomorrow.
- When do you start your new job next week?
- I have a job evaluation tomorrow. If all goes well, I hope to get that promotion.
The Present Simple Used with Stative Verbs
Stative verbs describe a state of being, possession, or mental process (ThoughtCo.). Commonly, they refer to one of the following categories:
A. Verbs Related to Your Perception or Senses
Stative verbs related to your perception or senses include verbs such as feel (related to sensing something, not touching), hear, hurt, look (related to appearance, not the act of looking), see, seem, smell (related to sensing a smell, not the act of smelling), taste (related to sensing taste, not the act of tasting).
B. Verbs Related to Attitudes, Emotional States, or Mental States
Stative verbs related to attitudes, emotional states, or mental states include verbs such as agree, appear, believe, disagree, enjoy, forget, hate, like, love, need, prefer, recognize, remember, think , and understand.
C. Verbs Related to States of Being or Possession
Stative verbs related to states of being or possession include verbs such as be, belong, consist, contain, include, and possess.
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A fairly common mistake among English-language learners is to use stative verbs in the present continuous tense as in “I am not agreeing with you on that”), which is incorrect; you should say, “I do not agree with you on that.” Below are more examples.
- The present simple used with stative verbs
- The project appears to be dead in the water.
- I prefer we stay until tomorrow.
My head hurts. (not hurting)
Note. “Hurt” also has a non-stative meaning as in “You are hurting my arm.”
- I believe that everyone agrees with what you are saying now.
- Some of my students enjoy discussing novels in my course, but they do not want to write essays about them.
The president of the United States lives in the White House, but it belongs to the American people.
Note. “Live” also has the non-stative meaning of “to experience” as in “I am living the American dream.”
- I see that you are almost finished. I hope you do not forget to check your answers before you leave.
This box contains all of my childhood photos.
Note. “Contains” also has the non-stative meaning of “to deter” or “to keep someone or something within limits” as in “The firefighters are containing the fire quickly.”
The Present Simple Used with Performative Verbs
A performative verb expresses what is being performed when the speaker uses the verb. The speech act itself expresses the intent that the verb conveys. (ThoughtCo.)
For example, to suggest expresses the idea that the speaker is making a suggestion; to forgive expresses an act of forgiveness; and so on.
Common performative verbs include agree, advise, apologize, forbid, forgive, insist, invite, predict, recommend, refuse, suggest, vow, warn .
A fairly common mistake among English-language learners is to use performative verbs in the present continuous tense as in “I am promising I’ll arrive on time”), which sounds unnatural; you should say, “I promise I’ll arrive on time.” Another example is saying, “I’m forbidding you to go;” you should say, “I forbid you to go.” Below are more examples.
- The present simple with performative verbs
- State law forbids people from playing certain types of gambling.
- We invite you to visit our new restaurant.
We recommend you try something from our selection of seafood dishes.
We promise you will not be disappointed.
We predict you will enjoy it so much that you will come back for more.
- I apologize for being blunt, but I refuse to listen to anything else you have to say right now.
Affirmative, Negative, and Interrogative Forms
Use the auxiliary verb do (and does for the third person singular) to ask questions and to form the negative form of the present simple tense.
- Affirmative, interrogative, and negative forms of the present simple
Dogs have a better sense of smell than humans do.
— Do dogs have a poor sense of smell?
— No, they don’t have a poor sense of smell! They have a superior sense of smell.
— Why do dogs have a superior sense of smell?
— Because they have over 100 million sensory receptors in their nasal cavities.
The flight leaves at 2.
— Does the flight leave at 2 tomorrow?
— No. It doesn’t leave today. It leaves on Saturday.
— What airport does the flight leave from on Saturday?
— It leaves from O’Hare International Airport.
Complete this exercise to Practice the present simple tense.