I found this sentence in an English grammar book but I can't figure out why we are using the present continuous tense:

"Amy is a student, what is she studying?"

Shouldn't it be "what does she study" I think it's not talking about the action that is happening right now so we should use present simple can someone explain this thanks.

  • [Please use proper punctuation and spelling. It is very difficult to see so many typos in questions where people are trying to learn English. Thanks.]
    – Lambie
    Dec 28 '20 at 14:32

Both are reasonable. "Is studying" suggests that it is temporary (her course will finish in a year or two...) "Does study" suggests it is a permanent fact about Amy's life now.

You get the same with other verbs. It is often correct to use either "I live in..." or "I'm living in ..." to indicate whether you consider it to be a permanent fact about your, or a temporary stage to something else.

Hi I'm Amy and I'm studying Art and Design, but I plan to be an animator after I graduate.

Hi I'm Amy and I study Art and Design. My favourite designer is David Carson.


What does she study? She is a psychology student.

What is she studying (now/this month/this year)? What's her curriculum for this year?

The present continuous doesn't necessarily need to describe what is happening right now. It can refer to a more lengthy time spans and largely depends on how the asker sees it.

Is it a temporal occupation just to get a degree? Is it a short-term thing? Then a continuous tense would be more suitable.

Is it a lifelong passion of her? Is it something that can be used to describe her in general? Then a simple tense fits more.

  • I study French every Monday with a tutor.
  • Right now, I'm not studying French.

That example above is what is usually meant by the "right now" rule.

However, please consider:

  • She studies French at university.
  • She is studying French at university.

Question, implicit or actual: What does she do? [in life]. Answer: She studies French at university.

Question: What is she doing? [at this point in her life]. Answer: She is studying French at university.

Answer: The choice of simple present versus present continuous depends on the implicit or the explicit question or idea being expressed. Are you expressing a general idea (study French) or are you expressing a specific activity at a specific time? (studying French)

[Please note: The gerund structure, "studying French" is a separate issue.

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