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I'm brushing up on my grammar using Cambridge's English Grammar in Use, and in the present continuous and present simple unit, it mentioned when to use "always do" and "always doing".

I never picked up on the difference between the two, but the textbook says that when you always do something, that it's present simple for something you do frequently, while when you're "always doing" something, it has a negative connotation to it; like, you're doing it too much.

And yet, i hear people say "I always eat at restaurant A" with them sounding happy about it. I also hear people use the present simple, the "I always do", when they talk about something negatively; like, "I always lose my glasses".

I don't get the difference between "I always do A" and "I'm always doing A".

  • Negative connotation: I'm always getting the simple present and the present continuous confused. And eat is not present continuous. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 7 '18 at 14:03
  • What your text says is right for beginners. In teaching English, one contrast the two usages that way. Then, later, when a student is more advanced, they can learn that the continuous + always/never is a special case. ["I'm never doing sports at 7:00 am, like you are implying, John".] – Lambie Apr 7 '18 at 15:48
  • EGIU explains it pretty clearly ".. too often. More often than normal." (.. p.6) – Matt Jan 1 at 19:06
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When native speakers say

I'm always {doing something}....

it's as if they're gently berating themselves that they persist in making the same error or slip-up.

I'm always misplacing my car keys!

I'm always forgetting my wallet!

I'm always mistaking him for his older brother!

Those are things you find yourself doing again and again. Such statements are an exclamation, more or less.

You can express a similar idea with simple present.

I always misplace my car keys!

but for many speakers the simple present wouldn't be as gentle and forgiving as the continuous, and there would be a little tinge of angry frustration in the statement.

What would NOT be idiomatic is to use the present continuous to refer to your standard (volitional/intentional) practice:

I am always eating lunch at that restaurant because it's close to my office. not idiomatic

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    You usually eat lunch at that restaurant. I'm always eating lunch there sounds like a bad habit. – Matt Jan 1 at 18:57
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Although your examples mean the same thing, they are likely to be used in different contexts:

Someone is more likely to use your first example when talking about the conditions that lead to it. For example:

I always make grammatical errors when I'm under stress

I always make grammatical errors when I use my second language.

Someone is more likely to use the second example in response to a comment. For example:

Teacher: You have used the wrong verb in this sentence.

Pupil (with a sigh): I am always making grammatical errors.

Always in this context is often used with a note of regret - an admission of some small failing. So, yes, it frequently has a negative connotation.

On the other hand, I always do.. is more often used positively.

I always do the washing up after supper.

I always do my homework in the study.

As in these examples, people are more likely to use the simple present tense when making statements about their habits:

I visit the library every Saturday.

I eat at the Chinese restaurant when I am in town.

I take two spoonfuls of sugar with coffee.

They use the present continuous when talking about their current actions or future plans:

I am reading an interesting book.

I am going to the cinema tomorrow evening.

The bottom line is that these are general rules only and that the choice of tense is governed largely by context and preference.

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What is usually taught first to beginners is the present simple/present continuous difference.

The two verb tenses are contrasted:

- I always eat sausages for Saturday lunch.

- I'm eating sausages now.

But, can I also say this:

- I'm always eating sausages on weekends, instead of any vegetables.

Answer: Yes, please read on.

Generally, the adverbs: sometimes, always, never, usually, frequently, rarely, seldom, hardly, hardly ever [and other adverbs of frequency] are, when in the present, very often in the present simple for general statements.

Then, later, when a student is more advanced*, they can learn that the present continuous + always/never/usually is a kind of special case [Normally, sometimes is not used with a continuous tense, though, it too can be used as a continuous].

  • "I'm never doing sports at 7:00 am, like you are implying, John".
  • "At three p.m. I'm always finding that my colleagues are falling asleep at their desks."
  • "I'm hardly ever searching for lost dogs during the week, but I do do that on weekends".
  • "He's sometimes going right up to the referee and complaining to him directly".

Language learning is done in stages, you can't learn everything at once. Generally, in spoken language, people will use the present continuous to emphasize some activity that is repetitive in nature when referring to it in a conversation with someome:

Mother to son: "I'm always finding your dirty socks in the middle of the living room in the morning. That's unacceptable, Johnny."

Could this mother have said: "I always find your dirty socks [etc.]"? Yes, she could have, but as this is habitual or repetitive, and she is speaking to her son, she uses the continuous.

Here is a useful trick you can use:

  • He always works on Saturdays. [Question: is that a repetitive activity?

    Answer: Yes, it occurs every Saturday. Therefore, a speaker in a conversation is also quite likely to say:

  • You know, Mary, I can't go to the mall that day. I'm always working on Saturdays.

Please note: The use of the continuous is not restricted to negative statements. It involves some activity that is repetitive in nature and the repetitive quality of which is best served by a continuous, especially, in spoken language, or where a general truth (Dogs play outdoors all the time.) is not the main point being expressed: the main point is the repetitive nature of activity (The dogs at this shelter are always playing outdoors)

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Normally we only use adverbs of frequency in the simple present tense. I sometimes play tennis, I usually have eggs for breakfast etc. The exception is "Always"

When you use always in the continuous, it's not actually a fact:

I'm always losing my key! It's not true. Sometimes I do remember where it is!

The neighbours are always arguing! Not true. They do occasionally sleep!

What be + always + doing means is that it happens too often.

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