I don't know which tense I should choose in this sort of sentences:

Angelina Jolie appears/is appearing in a movie titled Tomb Raider.

Angelina Jolie plays/is playing the part of Christine Collins in Changeling.

Should I understand them in terms of present simple tense and thereby associate with a fact, something what is well known or permanent state. Will present continuous tense apply here? For what I know, we can use present continuous while taking about situations taking place in the so-called "background of present", not exactly now. Maybe both forms are correct.

Please, let me know. Thank you very much in advance.

  • 1
    "is appearing" would only be used before the film has been released, or while the film was actively playing in theaters (though in the latter case "is currently appearing" would be more colloquial). "appears", however, could be used any time: before the film was released, while it was in theaters, or any time after it had stopped playing in theaters.
    – Jonah
    Sep 23, 2019 at 2:47
  • Thank you Jonah!
    – Piotr
    Sep 23, 2019 at 6:29

1 Answer 1


Loosely speaking, both forms are fine.

The present continuous is normally used to describe something that is ongoing. Although it has no tense and can be used to describe something in the past, present, and future, what it describes is something that was, is, or will be actually happening for a measurable period of time.

Another thing going on here is the specific context of how the wording is used when it comes to appears versus plays, as well as the specific case of films. It's all related to the particular context.

If Angelina Jolie is currently in engaged the process of filming Tomb Raider, or she has finished filming it but the movie hasn't appeared in theatres yet, then you might say one of the following:

Angelina Jolie is appearing in a movie titled Tomb Raider.
Angelina Jolie will be appearing in a movie titled Tomb Raider.

However, if the filming is finished, and it's currently being shown in the theatres, then you would likely not say either of those. Instead, you would probably say:

Angelina Jolie appears in a movie titled Tomb Raider.

The same is true of plays and is playing, except that the period of time when you would use is playing (or will be playing) is even shorter. Once she has finished the filming process, and her involvement in the production is over, you would switch to using plays, even before the movie has appeared in theatres.

This is because playing describes her acting as she's doing it, but plays, at least in this sense, is more normally used to describe the finished product, after she's completed her acting job for the camera.

At least that's likely the more common usage of the wording and scenarios. There is no set rule, and the implied meaning would be understood no matter what you said at which time. (I've heard all variations of the phrasing used in all contexts.)

With something like actual stage productions, it's different. It's both a discrete process that takes place each night and it's something continuous. Therefore, assuming Tomb Raider were a stage play, and it were in production, you could use all three versions of the sentence at any time without the same kind of considerations.

  • Thank you very much Jason! Your answer was tremendously helpful for me.
    – Piotr
    Sep 23, 2019 at 6:41

You must log in to answer this question.

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