Friday, 21 July 2017

When Am I? Present Simple or Present Continuous

As I mentioned the other day, I have been taking a FutureLearn MOOC in beginner academic writing. This course contained a very nice exploration of two present tenses, and I thought I would share those with you all. When I went to primary school, we didn't look at parts of speech. Grammar and so forth was thought to be passé. Unfortunately this hands-off "we mustn't spoil their creativity" approach doesn't really help us learn to write well technically.

This aspect of the English present tenses was something that I had not thought about before. However, we switch between these two tenses when we are writing academically. Almost everything is written about as if it is happening in the present, so we need to understand these two tenses well in order to get our message clearly across.

The simple present tense is an action taking place or repeating now. The University of Reading's presenters gave the following situations where the present simple tense is used, which I have illustrated with examples:
  • Permanent situations: This course is at beginner level.
  • Habitual situations: Each week the course materials are easy to complete.
The present continuous tense is something that is more immediate than the present tense: it is unfolding right now, as we speak. It is used in the following circumstances, and is often flagged with "-ing" words:
  • Temporary situations: I am finding this week’s course materials easy.
  • Developing situations: This course is at a lower level than I had initially thought.
  • Events happening now: This current exercise is very easy.

When I consider the complexity of this, it is no wonder so many international students find ordinary spoken English confusing, and academic writing a lost world. Courses such as this from the University of Reading and FutureLearn must really make a difference to the competence of non-English speakers. They have removed enough extraneous material to make what remains understandable, while not over-simplifying.



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