05 November, 2008

Lecture Notes: Present Tense

Lecture Notes: Present Tense

Simple Present

A. Meaning:

1. The simple present tense is used to describe an action or an idea that is always true, such as scientific facts and physical laws.

(a) Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen.
(b) The average person breathes 21,600 a day.
(c) The world is round.

These are facts that were, are and always will be true, unless scientists discover otherwise.

2. You can also use the simple present tense to describe something that happens habitually. This means that you can use adverbs such as always, usually, often, sometimes, never, etc. If you feel uncertain whether you should use the simple present tense or not, ask yourself if you can add one of these adverbs and the sentence still makes sense.

Americans (often) work very hard.
Mary (sometimes) drinks 7up with dinner.
The teacher (always) gives a lot of homework.
Nurses (usually) wear white uniforms.

There are many verbs that usually cannot be in the simple present tense:

(a) * I decide to go to school.

(Do you usually decide to go to school? No, a decision is usually made in a moment. It starts and ends very quickly. So you should say "I have decided to go to school" or "I decided to go to school.")

(b) *Dan becomes a good student.

Can someone usually become a good student? Become means to change from one thing to another, and the change usually happens in a moment. So again, you should say "Dan has become a good student" or "Dan became a good student."

B. Form:

1. Affirmative Statements: Subject + Verb

*Add -s or -es to the verb when the subject is 3rd person singular (he, she, it, Mary, book, house, etc.). Use the base form of the verb (no change) with all other subjects.

I work. We work.
You work.
He works. They work.
She works.
It works.

2. Negative Statements: Subject + Do/Does + Not + Verb

I do not work. We do not work.
You do not work.
He does not work. They do not work.
She does not work.
It does not work.

*There is no -s or -es ending on the verb. It remains in its base form.

3. Questions: Do/Does + Subject + Verb

Do I work? Do we work?
Do you work?
Does he work? Do they work?
Does she work?
Does it work?
*There is no -s or -es ending on the verb. It remains in its base form.

Present Progressive

A. Meaning:
The present progressive tense is used to describe an action or an event that is happening at the moment of speaking, or right now. The action is in progress; it started some time in the past and is not finished.

(g) John is sleeping.

(John started sleeping some time ago and he has not woken up yet.)
(h) I need an umbrella because it is raining.

(It started raining in the past and it is still raining now. It will stop in the future.)

You can also use the present progressive tense to express something that is temporary, although it is not happening at the moment of speaking. Temporary means that it is true for a while but will not always be true. It will end soon. You should be able to add this week, this month, this year, this semester, etc. to the sentence and still make sense.

(j) I am taking five courses this semester.

(This is true for this semester. I took 6 courses last semester and will take 4 courses next semester. This is only temporary.)

(k) John is trying to improve his work habits (this month).

This is true only this month. Perhaps he realized last month that he needed to improve his work habits. Once he improves in the future, he will stop trying.

B: Form

Affirmative Statements: Subject + Be + Verb-ing
*The Be auxiliary must agree with the subject in person and in number.

I am talking. We are talking.
You are talking.
He is talking. They are talking.
She is talking.
It is talking.

**Don't forget to include the BE auxiliary. If you do, the sentence will not be complete:

wrong She talking to the teacher.
right She is talking to the teacher.
wrong We looking for an apartment.
right We are looking for an apartment.

Negative Statements: Subject + Be + Not + Verb-ing

I am not talking. We are not talking.
You are not talking.
He is not talking. They are not talking.
She is not talking.
It is not talking.

Questions: Be + Subject + Verb-ing

Am I talking? Are we talking?
Are you talking?
Is he talking? Are they talking?
Is she talking?
Is it talking?

Stative Verbs

Stative verbs are those that do not describe an action but rather conditions or situations. They express mental activities or observations. You cannot see the verb happening with your eyes because it describes a mental state (action of the mind), emotional state (feelings), possession, sense perception, or other existing states. These verbs must be in the simple tense but never in the progressive:

wrong I am liking this food very much.
right I like this food very much.
wrong My sister is knowing my teacher.
right My sister knows my teacher.
The only exceptions are the sense perception verbs when they describe an action rather than a quality of something.

a. My mother is smelling the soup.

(I am describing my mother's action of putting her nose close to the soup.)

b. My mother smells nice.

(I am describing my mother's condition. She has put some perfume on and has a fragrant smell.)

When in doubt, just ask yourself, "Is someone or something doing something, or am I describing a condition?"

Am/Is/Are Being + Adjective

Adjectives are words that describe nouns (people, places, things, ideas). (see examples on p. 17) It is common to use BE + adjective to describe a state of something:

BE adjective

The joke is funny.
Japanese are polite.
The party is noisy
The law is unfair

In most cases, the BE verb is in the simple present tense, as in the above sentences. However, the BE verb can be in the progressive tense when describing a temporary state:

a. The children are being so rude today.

(They are usually very polite. This is a temporary condition.)
b. You are being illogical.

(You are usually very logical, but right now, you are not.)

c. Patricia is not being responsible with her money.

(She is usually very responsible, but perhaps she is experiencing a temporary financial trouble these days.)

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