Also Known As: Present Simple or Present Indefinite
As it turns out, the simple present is not so simple or even necessarily all that “present”. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily mean “this is what I am doing in this exact moment”.
At ArgoPrep, we like to imagine that simple present tense is like a time capsule. These are things that exist now, have existed in the past, and will likely continue existing in the future. When you use this tense, you’re talking about events or situations that happen always, usually, regularly, or routinely.
For example, we all eat, don’t we? I eat. You eat. We eat! He eats, and so does she! They eat. And this is true for all of us in the past. It’s true now (meaning “sometime today, if given the opportunity, you eat”, not necessarily “I’m eating ice cream as I read this.”). It will very likely be true in the future. As long as you are a human and your body can process food, you eat! It’s a general statement, not a description of what you are doing right NOW.
We use simple present tense when we talk about actions that can be seen as facts. They may be habitual, unchanging, and you would view the action as generally true statements or a fixed action that happens often. You can also use the simple present tense when you give directions or express future time (although you’ll have to conjugate it a bit for that last usage).
To Form the Simple Present Tense
Okay, perhaps it was offensive to the simple present tense to say it isn’t all that simple, but to be fair, it’s just not as simple to understand as we’d like. “Present Indefinite” is probably a better name for it.
And who among us has not dreamed of changing our names?
Although it’s more of an “indefinite” in time, it actually IS very simple to write and use when you know how.
You just use a verb as it is in its most basic form in this tense. You don’t have to add any helping verbs or complicate the verb in any way.
To demonstrate this in the table below, we’ve used the word “jump”.
The only time you really need to change it at all is when you are speaking in the third person singular. If you want to tell about what “he”, “she”, or “it” are doing, you’ll have to add an “s” to the end of the verb.
So, in that case, “jump” would change to “jumps”.
We must admit that only having to change one letter is pretty simple.
When asking a question with a simple present tense verb, you would add either “do” or “does” to the beginning of a sentence. “Do” is used for first person singular and plural (I, you, we, they). “Does” is reserved for those third person singular words mentioned above where we add the “s” to the end of the verb.
To create a negative statement, you would add “not” to the “do” or “does”.
|I jump.||Do I jump?||I do not jump.|
|You jump.||Do you jump?||You do not jump.|
|She jumps.||Does she jump?||She does not jump.|
|He jumps.||Does he jump?||He does not jump.|
|They jump.||Do they jump?||They do not jump.|
|We jump.||Do we jump?||We do not jump.|
|It jumps.||Does it jump?||It does not jump.|
When to use the simple Present Tense
To Describe Habits or Habitual Actions
In this case, the simple present tense expresses the idea that an action is habitual, repeated, or regular. A “habit” is something you do automatically. It’s just part of who you are, and you don’t really even think about it. It could be a hobby, daily activity, something you don’t even realize you are doing, or even something someone avoids doing.
|I usually make a mess.||Making a mess is a habit for a messy person.|
|We go to the store every week.||Weekly shopping is a routine.|
|He always forgets his wallet.||Forgetting your wallet is a bad habit.|
|When does the bus leave?||Bus schedules are routine.|
|The bus does not leave at 10 am.||And it’s nice when the routine stays routine!|
Here are a few more examples:
I drink tea.
We watch television.
She eats healthy food.
He goes to the gym.
Every summer, we drive down the coast.
On Tuesdays, we eat pancakes.
I do laundry on Mondays.
To Express Unchanging Actions
The simple present tense is used to describe actions that do not change, such as where someone lives, works, or other actions that are continuing. Examples include:
I live in London.
Do you work in London?
He attends primary school.
She does not live in London.
They live in Seattle.
Does her mom work at a diner?
I ride the bus to work.
He is married.
We have a pet cat.
To Make Generalizations
The simple present tense can be used to state generalizations that are typically either indisputable or just facts that are generally accepted as true. Examples include:
The moon orbits around the earth.
The mountains are tall.
Your mother is Greek.
We are small.
The rain is loud.
My father is French.
New York is a big city.
To Describe Fixed Arrangements
In this case, the simple present tense is used to describe specific events that will happen in the future at a certain or fixed time. Examples include:
The game starts at 5.
Your mother arrives tomorrow.
She makes dinner at 7.
When does your brother arrive?
The train comes at 9.
School starts tomorrow.
We ride bikes on Tuesday.
Your sister arrives tomorrow.
Their wedding is tomorrow night.
Your exam starts at noon.
To Give Directions
The simple present tense is also used to give directions or instructions. This may be step by step instructions, or simply a command or call to action. Examples include:
Heat the burrito at 350 degrees.
Boil for five minutes.
Take exit 250 in 8 miles.
Bake until golden brown.
You take the No. 14 bus to Fairhaven.
Turn left at the fork.
Pour the hot water into the cup.
Wear safety goggles.
Take Exit 70 in 4 miles.
Turn right on Abbott Street.
A Note on Using the Simple Present Tense with the Third Person Singular
When dealing with the third person singular, the verb always ends in “s”.
Negative and question forms dealing with the third person singular will use “does”, as well as the infinitive of the verb.
When using a verb ending in “y” with the third person, change the “y” to “ies”. So, the verb “try” would become “tries”, and the verb “cry” would become “cries”.
The exception to this rule being if the “y” at the end of the verb is preceded by a vowel. Examples of this would be the verbs “buy” which would become “buys”, or the verb “lay” which would become “lays”.
Add “es” to the end of verbs ending in “ss”, “sh”, “ch”, or “x”. “Pass” becomes “passes”, “smash” becomes “smashes”, “watch” becomes “watches”, and “fix” becomes “fixes”.
She goes to the market every Sunday.
He mashes the potatoes for dinner.
It fixes itself.
He watches the ducks.
She passes the cup to him.
Examples from Film
Remember in The Lion King when Mufasa is telling Simba about the circle of life and says, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance”? He was stating that everything has always existed in a delicate balance, it currently exists in this balance, and it (hopefully) will continue to exist in such a balance.
And, who can count the number of times someone in a Star Wars movie says, “I have a bad feeling about this”? It seems like in the world of Star Wars, someone ALWAYS has a bad feeling about what is going on, but specifically in the moment, the speaker is feeling unsure (and usually with good reason!).
In the movie 50 First Dates, the big reveal is stated when Sue tells Adam Sandler’s character, “Lucy does the same thing everyday.” This line sums up a rather complicated plot point in 6 simple words in which the simple present verb “does” is essential.
And, of course, there is the Celine Dion song, “My Heart Will Go On” from the Blockbuster film Titanic in which she gently reminds, “Every night in my dreams I see you, I feel you.” The fact that she is stating that she sees and feels this lover who is no longer with her makes the song so much more poignant and painful.