I’ve found some examples (provided by native speakers of English) of using The Present Simple where according to all the grammars I’ve read The Present Progressive should have been used. Could you please explain how it is possible? I’ll give the examples below, but now I should say I’ve formed my own hypothesis: this use is old-fashioned, and it is applied:

– by the speaker to sound more dramatic, old-fashioned because such an effect might be used for joking, mockery, playing the fool or to be extremely formal;

– by the speaker/author as fixed expressions which were formed according to the grammar rules of more ancient English but have survived in contemporary English because they sound very good;

– by the speaker/author to mock the speech of foreigners who use the verb tenses incorrectly;

– by the author when he wants to underline that his character speaking like that is very old or lives in previous centuries.

But I’m absolutely not sure about it. I’d be extremely grateful to you if you gave me the right answer. Thank you in advance! The examples are:

  1. ‘You lie!’ It was said by an American politician Joe Wilson to President Obama when Mr Obama was explaining some details of a reform. ‘You’re lying’ should be ‘correct’. The link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Wilson_(American_politician)#%22You_lie!%22_outburst_during_Obama_address I suppose Joe Wilson wanted to sound dramatic.
  2. In the fan fiction book ‘Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality’ by E. Yudkowsky: "Father," Draco said in a small voice. "I think you should consider it, father." Lucius Malfoy looked at his son. "You jest." The ‘correct’ verb form would be ‘are jesting’. But the author is an American. The link: https://www.hpmor.com/chapter/97 . I think the author wanted to underline the noble blood and arrogance of L.Malfoy letting him say like this.
  3. In the same book: "You know it's actually getting rather late in the day and I'm a bit hungry, so I should be going down to dinner, really" and Harry made a beeline for the door. The doorknob entirely failed to turn. "You wound me, Harry," said Dumbledore's voice in quiet tones that were coming from right behind him. "Do you not at least realise that what I have told you is a sign of trust?" ‘Are wounding me’ is supposed to be the right form… The link: https://www.hpmor.com/chapter/17 I think ‘you wound me’ is a fixed expression.
  4. The video game ‘Devil May Cry 3’ (a usual game, like many others, not concerned with theatre at all), the 2nd cutscene of the mission 6. A man appears in front of a heavily armed girl. The girl points a gun at him. The man says (with the BBC accent), ‘You point a gun at me? Your own kin?’ The girl shoots. The man teleports to the ceiling above her head. ‘You break my heart!’ he says. The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLQJz860YGs I think the man wanted to sound arrogant and dramatic, so he didn’t use ‘are pointing’ and ‘are breaking’.
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    Yes, You lie and You jest are stock phrases with an old-fashioned literary or dramatic flavour. We don't even use jest in everyday speech; the colloquial form would be 'You're joking!' Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:36
  • @KateBunting "You're 'avin' a larf!" Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:40
  • @PrimeMover: I have yet to hear any Cockneys come out with dismissive You have a laugh, mate!, with or without the /h/. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:44
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    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I did have a mentor at work once who was having difficulty explaining what it was he wanted me to do, and after I'd asked him for the nth time to clarify, he looked at me and said, "You challenge me." Hence I can see how "You annoy me" would mean "Your habitual way of behaviour is a consistent source of annoyance to me", while "You're annoying me" means "At this moment, you are a (possibly transient) source of annoyance to me." Either works, both mean different things. Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 0:28
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    @PrimeMover: Yeah, that's what I meant. Such things are often below the level of conscious awareness, but "not the most obvious phrasing" = "not the most obvious meaning" is a well--established principle in English (which I suspect has more different ways of saying "the same" thing than most other languages). I've no doubt he wanted to imply "irritating" more than "threatening", and it seems to me using the "unusual" tense and verb got the message across quite deftly! Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 13:38

2 Answers 2


They do have a fairly formal, old-fashioned, "aristocratic" style to them (which is what the writers are probably going for in each of these examples). But as well as that, the present progressive has a sense of something ongoing, or an effect that's being felt right now:

You're wounding me - your ongoing actions are causing me to experience pain

You wound me - has more of a sense that the action ended, and caused pain.

The present tense makes it feel like it just happened (and that implies it could happen again in the near future, because you're still in that situation)

It's a subtle difference, and honestly it usually just comes down to the way someone talks - you'll generally hear the present progressive instead (you're breaking my heart, you're lying) so the use of the present simple makes someone sound posh, formally educated, anachronistic etc.

Also there's the word choice too - you wouldn't generally hear people say you're jesting because that's not a word you hear much! Not as a verb anyway, so it adds to that sense of the character's background. The same goes for you're wounding me - I'm not saying it's not used, just that you're more likely to hear the sentence phrased a different way, like you're hurting me (which doesn't exactly have the same meaning though)

  • Thanks a LOT for the answer! May I ask for clarification? Let's pretend 'wound' in 'you wound/are wounding me' has frequently used sense. If I say, 'You wound me' to denote 'your ongoing actions are causing me to experience pain', it is an old-fashioned use, 'You're wounding me' would be normal. But if I say, 'You wound me' to state 'the action has just ended, caused pain, and can happen again in the near future because you're still in that situation', will it be not old-fashioned? (And will it be so with the other verbs in analogous contexts?) Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 14:16
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    The present progressive has an explicit sense that the action (wounding etc) is ongoing. The present perfect can be used to talk about something that just happened (its effect is still being felt, you have wounded me). The simple present isn't usually used this way, but in some formal styles you can use it in place of the progressive or perfect form - e.g. in formal writing, I enclose a copy of your letter instead of I am enclosing a copy (or I have enclosed...). Using this formal simple present style in speech is very unusual and carries that "aristocratic" feel. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 16:39
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    Just to be clear, the simple present itself doesn't sound "aristocratic" - there are plenty of places where it's typically used, like repeated actions (I ride my bike every day), unchanging states (I live here), narrating something that's currently happening etc. And there are a few words used in that progressive / past sense that we do typically use the simple present for: I see things are going well, I hear you own a trampoline now - but generally, using the simple present for those progressive / recent past expressions is what sounds unusual. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 16:49
  • Thank you again! Your answer is extremely helpful. At last, I understand everything... Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 17:42
  • I suggests that's a misunderstanding, at best. 'You wound me' more likely means exactly the same as 'You're wounding me…' than anything different. There is no sense that the action ended, and caused pain. If there is a difference, that is simply the use of the word 'ongoing'… 'if' being the operative word. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 23:02

‘You lie…’ or ‘You jest…’ or ‘You wound me…’ or ‘You point a gun at me…’ are all wholly legitimate in modern English and surely have nothing to do with American or any other variant.

They are more dramatic, which is why they are now, as they always have been, used for emphasis but how does that make them old-fashioned, or suggest they might only be used for joking, mockery, playing the fool or to be extremely formal?

What makes you think they were formed according to any rules of older English - may we assume you did not at all mean ‘ancient…’?

How could they - or anything - be used to mock the speech of foreigners, unless the ‘mocking’ phrase was part of ordinary English?

Why would a character speaking like that need to be old, or live as though in previous centuries?

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