Present Simple Tense


The present simple tense (also called the simple present tense) is used when we speak about habits, general facts, and timetables. However, just because something is true does not necessarily mean it takes the present simple tense, nor does something have to be occurring in the present moment in time for it to be in the present simple tense.
It is called the present “simple” because its basic form consists of one word only—that is, it does not require an auxiliary verb to achieve its meaning.
Most verbs in the present simple tense are in the same form as the infinitive verb. However, if it is in the third-person singular form, then it usually takes the ending -(e)s.
For example:
  • “I live in London.” (Fact: I live permanently in London.)
  • “Hans comes from Berlin.” (Fact: Hans is originally from Berlin.)
  • “Mary has breakfast every morning.” (Habit)
Now let’s see how the form and meaning of the verbs change if we add the auxiliary verb “be:”
  • “I am living in London.” (Still a fact, but it now highlights that I am only living in London temporarily—this wasn’t always the case, and it might change in the future.)
  • “Hans is coming from Berlin.” (Hans is currently travelling from Berlin.)
  • “Mary is having breakfast.” (Mary is currently in the process of eating breakfast.)
These are examples of the present continuous tense. As you can see, their meaning is altered in comparison to those in the present simple tense. (To learn more about this tense, please refer to the chapter section on Present Continuous Tense.)
Present simple can also be used for future events that are fixed to happen, such as in timetables. For example:
  • “The train leaves at 7 PM.”
This is a fixed timetable where the present simple is used to indicate a future event. We can also say: “We leave for Berlin tomorrow at 7 PM,” as the speaker sees this as a fixed event similar to a timetable.
Normally we use stative verbs (also called state verbs) to express a fact. Here are some examples of common stative verbs:
  • Like
  • Dislike
  • Love
  • Enjoy
  • Hate
  • Have
  • Know
  • Need
  • Want
  • Seem
Of course, some action verbs (also called dynamic verbs) used for habits can also be seen as a state or general truth. For example:
  • “I play tennis.” (State/fact/general truth)
  • “I play tennis every week.” (Habit)
However, verbs with a stative meaning cannot be used to indicate habit. For example:
Some stative verbs can also function as action verbs in different contexts:
  • “I enjoy soup.” (Stative verb—expresses a state/fact.)
  • “I enjoy soup once in a while.” (Action verb—expresses a habit. “Enjoy” in this sense means to actively consume.)
We also use the present simple with the zero conditional, which means something is always true. For example:
  • “If you drop an egg, it breaks.” (Any egg will break if it is dropped.)
Present simple can be used in a variety of sentence formations, such as positive, negative, interrogative, and negative interrogative. We’ll briefly explain each and provide examples with the present simple tense.

Positive sentences

Simply put, positive sentences indicate what is the case, as opposed to what is not. In the present simple tense, they look like this:
  • “I jog every day.”
  • “He lives in Chicago.”
  • “Dogs bark, while cats meow.” (Third-person plural.)
  • “Janet writes songs for a living.”

Negative sentences

The opposite of a positive sentence, a negative sentence describes what is not (or no longer) the case. We form these by adding the auxiliary verb do (or does in the third-person singular) and the word not after the subject of the sentence. These can also be contracted to don’t or doesn’t. For example:
  • “I don’t jog every day.”
  • “He doesn’t live in Chicago anymore.”
  • “Dogs do not meow, and cats do not bark.”
  • “Janet does not write many songs these days.”

Interrogative sentences

Interrogative sentences ask a question. They are marked by the question mark punctuation (“?”) at the end instead of a period. Simple interrogative questions also use the auxiliary verb do (or does in the third-person singular), but before the subject instead of after. Generally speaking, it is uncommon to use a first-person subject in an interrogative sentence in the present simple.
  • Do you jog every day?”
  • Does he still live in Chicago?”
  • Do dogs bark, or do cats?” (The second “bark” is implied.)
  • Does Janet write songs anymore?”

Negative interrogative sentences

Negative interrogative sentences also ask a question, but they imply that the speaker expects the answer to be (or believes the answer should be) “yes.” We form these by adding the auxiliary verb do/does before the subject of the sentence and the word not after the subject. Again, these can be contracted to don’t or doesn’t; if they are, the contraction comes before the subject:
  • Do you not jog every day?”
  • Does he not still live in Chicago?”
  • Don’t dogs normally bark?”
  • Doesn’t Janet write songs for a living?”
Unlike the interrogative sentences, negative interrogative sentences are much more likely to be used in the first-person, with do and not typically contracted:
  • Don’t I look good in this dress?”
(For more information about different types of sentences, go to the chapter about Sentences in the part of the guide on Syntax.)

1. Which of the following sentences is not in the present simple tense?

2. The following sentence is in present simple tense. What kind of sentence is it?
“Does he not have a car of his own?”

3. What kind of verb (usually) cannot be used to indicate habit?

4. Which of the following sentences is in the present simple tense?

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