'My hands are shaking when I get nervous' - is this grammatically correct? I know that 'My hands shake when I get nervous' would be a safer choice but I'm just curious about that specific sentence. At first I thought it was correct, but then I googled it and the results were either 'hands shake' or 'hands start shaking', 'hands are shaky', etc. Thanks!

  • @KristinaLopez But I've read it's possible say something like 'I'm sleeping when my husband comes home from work', or 'I'm often reading the paper in the morning' for habitual actions.. Would these be wrong too? Thanks
    – Alex D.
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 21:19
  • Actually, no, those aren't wrong but are more idiomatic (and yes, a bit anachronistic!) but that's how it is sometimes with language. To me, a native speaker, "My hands are shaking when I get nervous" just sounds odd and wrong. I would expect to hear "My hand are shaking because I am nervous" or "My hands shake when I get nervous". I don't have the scholarly reason for the difference, just the opinion of a native speaker...hope it helps! :-) Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 22:14
  • @KristinaLopez Of course it helps, it's just what I needed, thanks again for taking the time to respond to this!
    – Alex D.
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 22:41
  • @KristinaLopez I agree that it is more usual to say "My hands shake when I get nervous". But I wouldn't entirely rule out hearing something like "You should just see me when that gorilla enters the room - my hands are shaking, my knees are knocking, my eyes are wobbling, my lips are quivering...etc."
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 23:06
  • That's almost like reported speech or a retelling of an event when it's stated in that way, @WS2, in my opinion, of course. :-) I still feel I must stick by my comment, though, that the exact sentence, as stated by the OP, is odd-sounding because of the "are" and "when". Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


The expression is not correct because “when I get nervous” refers to a point in time in the future while “are shaking” describes the action that your hands are performing in the present. Therefore, the tenses don’t match.

  • 1
    Exactly! Though there are examples where “are” and “when” can work in the same sentence (see comments), in the OP’s example, they don’t belong together. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 12:40

I am not altogether sure about grammatical incorrectness of the sentence "My hands are shaking when I get nervous", especially if "when" equals to "whenever". Moreover, I find it absolutely acceptable to show one's irritation with what happens to them when something else happens; although, I'd add the adverb "always".

For example, waiting at the dentist's, one of the patients might explain to the others (should they asked him why his hands are shaking):

They are always shaking when I get nervous.

In "My hands start shaking when [whenever] I get nervous", there's not obvious connection with the current situation--although I'd prefer "start to shake"-- but there's a general connection between the state of nervousness and shaking hands.

As for "My hands shake when I get nervous", it, too, sounds to me only as an established fact of the above connection.

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