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There have been a lot of discussion concerning the difference between the Present Simple and the Present Continuous for actions but I'm eager to know if there is a difference when speaking about an end result of an action?

Here's what I mean:

  • Make sure she gets on the train.
  • Make sure she is getting on the train.

Here the difference is obviously understood and both sound okay. But what if we use "to end up" as the verb:

  • Make sure she ends up on the train. (idiomatic)
  • Make sure she is ending up on the train. (ridiculous to my ear)

Seems to me that the continuous tense doesn't work with end results:

  • See that he turns up at the bank.
  • See that he is turning up at the bank.

The latter sounds awkward and ridiculous. Why does this happen?

  • In the last sentence, you probably mean "The latter sounds awkward...". Can you clarify what kind of answer you are expecting for the question "Why does this happen?". It seems obvious to me that not every grammatical sentence sounds sensible, for example "Red darkness is convenient". – JavaLatte Jan 26 '18 at 11:04
  • end result is not precise. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 26 '18 at 11:04
  • Make sure she's gotten on the train refers to the perfected action. Make sure she gets on the train refers to the action in medias res. Make sure she's getting on the train refers to a recurrent or repeated action, like Make sure she's getting her daily vitamin while we're away. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 26 '18 at 11:05
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If "he" is supposed to work at the bank but there is some doubt of his willingness to do so, the final example is OK as it refers to an habitual activity (or one the speaker hopes is habitual). "See that he turns up at the bank" could work too, if he were a (wavering) member of a gang planning to rob it. In that case the activity is presumably not habitual (at that bank).

But I cannot think up even a fanciful situation in which "Make sure she is getting on the train" could be correct; it just sounds like a common mistake one hears from English language learners.

Nevertheless, it is not a straightforward distinction between one-off and habitual that governs which tense to use. Consider "make sure he is doing his homework" and "make sure he does his homework". Both could refer to habitual activity, although the former could also apply if we hope he is doing his homework at this instant.

The rule of thumb might be: if its an end result and we are not speaking of habitual activity then simple present is the better choice.

  • Well, from what I remember "Make sure he does his homework" means "Make sure he finishes it" whereas "Make sure he is doing his homework" means "Make sure he's at it". – SovereignSun Jan 26 '18 at 9:59
  • Both of those meanings are correct but the sentences also both could mean "make sure he does it every night". – JeremyC Jan 26 '18 at 10:23
  • @JeremyC, for present continuous it is probably better to use the word repetitive rather than habitual. Habitual only really applies to present simple, for example "he smokes", or "she eats fish on Friday". – JavaLatte Jan 26 '18 at 10:57
  • So you cannot think up even a fanciful situation in which "Make sure she is getting on the train" could be correct? Suppose she's a recently-hired platform worker at a "terminus" station, one of whose duties is to actually get on each train to check for any still-asleep passengers before it starts its return journey (or gets shunted off to a siding for a lengthy "lay-over"). The station-master might ask his platform "foreman" that exact question if he has reason to suspect she doesn't always bother performing that check. – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '18 at 14:50
  • Or a newspaper editor might ask this about one of his reporters who's been despatched to interview some politician who will be travelling on that train, if he wanted to be sure she was going to get on the train (for a lengthy interview, perhaps), rather than just catch a few soundbites on the platform before he gets aboard. In short, that exact phrasing could reasonably be used of a single future action, as well as repeated/ongoing actions. – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '18 at 14:54

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