The present simple tense in all its glory

Present simple tenseEver wanted to know the full range of situations when the use of the present simple tense is appropriate? Read on …. This blog presents eight occasions where the present simple tense is required, so that we can do justice to this undervalued but essential tense.

 

The form

The present simple tense is formed without an auxiliary and simply by using the infinitive for all forms except the third person singular, where a final -s or -es is added to the root.

Singular Plural
I go / do / eat / sleep / fly We go / do / eat / sleep / fly
You go / do / eat / sleep / fly You go / do / eat / sleep / fly
He/She/It goes / does / eats / sleeps / flies They go / do / eat / sleep / fly

 

The only truly irregular verb in the simple present tense is ‘be’:

Singular Plural
I am We are
You are You are
He/She/It is They are

 

The cases for the use of the present simple tense:

 

1. To present facts or widely held truths

  • The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
  • Water flows downhill.
  • The UK is an island to the northwest of France.

 

2. To describe a habit or frequent occurrence

  • We drive the children to school at half past eight every morning.
  • I always brush my teeth at night.
  • She goes to her Spanish class every Wednesday evening.

 

3. To describe a state with no limits in the past or future

  • They are junior doctors.
  • I live in Liverpool.
  • She is hungry.

 

4. To describe timetabled events in the future

  • We leave for France on the 18th of March.
  • The concert starts at 9 pm and finishes about 11:30 pm.
  • The next train for Liverpool leaves from Platform 9 at 10:37.

 

5. To describe an event simultaneous with the present moment

  • Andy Murray lobs the ball over the net, Federer returns.
  • Arsenal score a second goal from free play. Can Aston Villa make a comeback?
  • The farmer watches his cattle as they pass by and into the pasture.

 

6. To describe a deceased author or academic’s work or beliefs

  • Jane Austin writes about the minutiae of daily life.
  • George Orwell describes the challenges of the working classes in the 1930s.
  • Newton presents the laws of motion as three physical laws

 

7. To recall the past as the historical present, for dramatic effect

  • I am in the pub and this man walks in with his dog and sits in the seat next to me. I say hello to him but he doesn’t reply.
  • So we are at the party, quiet as mice, when Steve walks in and is amazed to see us all there.

 

8. To use the historical present to distance yourself for the comment (as it may be incorrect)

  • I believe you are getting married.
  • We hear that the elections are not going well for the Conservatives.
  • I hear the nurses are unhappy with their pay freeze.

 

Now having a clearer picture of the scenarios where the present simple tense is employed, it can be seen that rather than being a simple and unglamorous indicator of state and time, there are a diverse range of opportunities for using the present simple tense.