Tom is looking for his key. He can't find it.

First part is definitely present continuous.
But what about the second part. It is present simple, Right? How do you connect it with present simple definitions,like:

to talk about general things, things that happen repeatedly or often or things that are true in general.

I don't think Can is related to these. or even figures like this: Timeline

It is something around now, but not present continuous.

OR "She is here" OR "He is in the bank right now".
They don't look like present simple to me,considering definitions, although they are.

  • 1
    Yes, "can" is a present tense modal verb, so "He can't find it" is a present tense clause. Any clause headed by "can" will be present tense.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 9:30
  • I don't think there is a way to use modals in a present continuous way, because they don't represent actions that you could be doing right now. Tom's is performing the action of "looking for his key" right now, but his inability to find the key isn't an action.
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 11:24
  • That's right because the modals require an infinitival clause as complement, not a participial one.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 11:35
  • @stangdon yes. you are saying that "not being able to find your key" isn't action? what about: "I can cook". my question is especially about the last examples: He is in the bank right now Look at this example please and connect it with on of applications of simple present. which one apply's to this? Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 12:16
  • 1
    @SirMeysamFerguson - Yes, that's correct. Ability or non-ability is not an action. "I can cook" is exactly the same; there's no way to phrase it like "I am can-ing cook".
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


Stative verbs - verbs that represent states rather than actions - are rarely used with the continuous aspect.

The British Council has a page about this. Verbs of thinking and opinions (believe, doubt, guess, imagine, mean, remember, think), feelings and emotions (dislike, love, prefer. want, wish), senses (see, hear, taste, smell, feel) are given as examples:

She doesn’t know what to do NOT She isn’t knowing what to do

It smells of smoke in here. NOT It’s smelling of smoke in here

There are exceptions, of course (enjoy is often used in the continuous, and some of the others are used with continuous aspect either in certain circumstances or in colloquial usage).

For the modal verbs, the rule is absolute: they are never used in continuous forms. Indeed, they cannot be, because they lack participles. You can't say "I am woulding" or "I am shalling" or "I am maying" because those participles don't exist - and you can say "I am canning" only if you are using the unrelated non-modal verb "to can".

Modal verbs also lack infinitives. We often get around that by substituting a phrase. For example, we can't say "I will can", but we can say "I will be able to", and we can't say "I will must", but we can say "I will have to".

For the continuous aspect, we generally don't use substitutes: we don't say "I am being able to" (although "not being able to" works as a nonfinite expression in "Not being able to find your key is a problem"). "Be" is usually not used with the continuous aspect, although the possibility exists and is idiomatic in certain uses). On the other hand, "I am having to" is sometimes used as a continuous form of "I have to" (and therefore an equivalent for the missing continuous form of "I must").

  • Thank you bro. My real problem is that, when you look at the books or search the internet what you see is a bunch of applications for present simple tense. for example: "Telling jokes, scientific facts, thins that happen regularly, or all the time, talking about things in general" I can really connect the examples they provide with one of the applications in the list. BUT When it reaches to these examples I just can't. they don't fit. Things like: He is in the bank right now or I may hit you. These don't seem to be done in the past, now and maybe future(present simple) Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 12:29
  • @stangdon can you read the upper comment please Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 12:30
  • 1
    The verb "be" is usually used in the simple present rather than present continuous. It is like a stative verb in that respect. By definition it refers to something ongoing, not to an action, so we say "I am happy", "I am tall", "I am 35", etc, because these things aren't specific to the current moment. Even if you say "I am happy right now" it is unlikely that you literally mean that you weren't happy a moment previously and won't be in a moment's time. However, we sometimes draw a distinction between "you are silly" (in general) and "you are being silly" (at the present time).
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 12:37
  • So, To summarize, "I'm understanding" is wrong. because understand is a state verb. I should say "I understand" so, when I say, "He is in the bank", "is" is a state verb. I can't say "He is-ing in the bank" even so I want to talk about a temporary thing. I'm forced by the language to use present simple. Did I get it right? Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 13:09
  • Correct, you can't say "he is being in the bank". That would never be idiomatic. Nor can you say "I'm understanding" as a complete sentence (it would always be "I understand") (unless you are using the adjective "understanding", which means "sympathetic") - although in a larger sentence, "let me just check if I'm understanding you correctly" and "let me just check if I understand you correctly" are both used, with no real difference in meaning.
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 13:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .