In the following exercise I'm asked to put the verb into the correct form, present continuous or simple present:

  1. The River Nile _ (flow) very fast today - much faster than usual.

Ans: is flowing

  1. We usually _ (grow) vegetables in our garden, but this year we _ (not/grow) any.

Ans: aren't growing

Are these two questions about the same idea that both of them are talking about sth doesn't happen in general or repeatedly? Is this the reason for the answers? Present Continuous can be referring to exception from routine or habit?


Finish sentences with always -ing:

  1. A: The car has broken down again. B: The car is useless. It_.

Ans: It's always breaking down

  1. A: Oh I forgot my glasses again. B: That's typical! _.

Ans: You're always forgetting your glasses.

Why aren't the answers "It always breaks down" and "You always forget your glasses"? I don't know the difference between "be always ving" and "always ving"


Use the words underlined to make sentences:

[The picture is about people in the theater asking whether seats are taken]

A: Excuse me. (anybody/sit/there?) _. B: No, go ahead.

Ans: Is anybody sitting there?

What rules should I follow to consider this situation? I mean, whether there's anybody sitting in a certain seat can be told by seeing it, so why not use present simple in this case?


2 Answers 2


Chart of tenses and the time period they refer to.

I find this above chart quite helpful in understanding tenses and the period of time they refer to in order to accurately choose tenses to use in a particular sentence.

First Q1: Present continuous tense is used in this sentence since the river is flowing continuously for the whole of ‘today’. Simple present should only be used in this case if the time frame (today) wasn’t given because only then would the sentence be a generalizations. e.g. The river flows. (Generalizations can't be specific so you can't specify a specific time period)

Q2 This is an example of a generalization. In that sentence, you’re generalizing that you usually or always grow vegetables in your garden. However, this year is an exception since you aren’t growing any vegetables. ‘Aren’t growing’ is in present continuous to express how throughout this year, you are continuously not growing any vegetables in your garden.

Present continuous tense isn’t necessarily used to name exceptions to a generalization. Sometimes past continuous can be used as well. (Daniel usually runs around in school but yesterday he was limping since he injured his thigh)

Second: Your method of using present tense instead of present continuous also works if you want to phrase it as a generalization. The present continuous form is probably the right answer because of the question requirements.

The main difference between the two is that present continuous is used to refer to a specified period of time between the past and the future while simple present is used to generalize throughout an unspecified period of time (has been happening since forever and will continue to happen forever)

Third: Similarly, you can use both present continuous and simple present here (Is anybody sitting there? vs does anybody sit there?). However, I would think that simple continuous is more appropriate in this case. If you look carefully at the chart, present continuous extends a bit to a specific point in the future as well while simple present is just 1 point in the timeline. Therefore ‘Is anybody sitting there?’ would mean ‘Is anybody sitting there now and will anybody be sitting there before the movie ends?’ (The period of time referred to here is from the present to a point in the future (ending of movie)).

In this case, simple present (generalization) means ‘Has anyone sat there before and will anyone sit there in forever’ obviously, since this is a movie theatre seat, someone would have sat there before your movie and will be sitting there after your movie. Thus, the answer to that question if it’s in simple present would always be ‘yes’ regardless of whether anyone is sitting in that seat during your movie.

Therefore, I would highly recommend using simple continuous in this case.



The River Nile _ (flow) very fast today - much faster than usual.

We use the present continuous (is flowing) here, because it's something that's happening now and isn't repeated or continuous. However, suppose that for some strange reason the Nile flowed very fast every Wednesday or every tenth Friday. Then we could say "The River Nile flows very fast today".

We usually grow vegetables in our garden, but this year we _ (not/grow) any.

We use the present continuous (aren't growing) because it's something we're doing (or not doing) during a particular period of time. However, suppose that for some strange reason we follow a schedule whereby we grow vegetables in our garden, except that every tenth year, we don't grow any. Then we can say "This year we don't grow any".


The car has broken down again. B: The car is useless. It_.

The present continuous (it's always breaking down) means that we feel as though it's always breaking down, but we don't really mean that it breaks down every time. The simple present (it always breaks down) - although sometimes also an exaggeration - means that it breaks down every time, and is more likely to be used with reference to a series of repeated events ("When we go on holiday, it always breaks down"; "It always breaks down on Thursdays").

Oh I forgot my glasses again. B: That's typical! _.

The present continuous (You're always forgetting your glasses) is a colloquial exaggeration. The simple present (You always forget your glasses) means that, within a specified or implicit series of events, you forget them every time ("When you go to night-school, you always forget your glasses"; "When you're driving, you always forget your glasses").

From Thomson & Martinet, A Practical English Grammar (Oxford University Press, 1986):

He is always losing his keys. This form is used, chiefly in the affirmative:

(1) For a frequently repeated action, usually when the frequency annoys the speaker or seems unreasonable to him. Tom is always going away for weekends (present continuous) would imply that he goes away very often, probably too often in the speaker's opinion. But it does not necessarily mean that he goes away every weekend. It is not a literal statement. Compare with always + simple present: Tom always goes away at weekends = Tom goes away every weekend (a literal statement).

I/we always + continuous is also possible here. The repeated action is then often accidental: I'm always making that mistake.

(2) For an action which appears to be continuous. He's always working = He works the whole time. This sort of action often annoys the speaker but doesn't necessarily do so. He's aways reading coud imply that he spends too much time reading, but could also be said in a tone of approval.


Excuse me. (anybody/sit/there?) _

The present continuous (Is anybody sitting there?) is asking whether the seat is in use now (where "now" implicitly includes instances where the person who was sitting there has just left for a few minutes or will otherwise be using the seat shortly).

The simple present (Does anybody sit there?) could be a way of asking either whether anyone habitually sits there ("Yeah, that's Bob's seat - he sits there whenever he comes in!") or whether anyone ever sits there (imagine the staff planning to rearrange the furniture: "Does anybody sit there?" - "No, hardly ever - we may as well remove that seat so people have more room to walk about").

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