What tense and aspect should be used in both these cases, and why?

  1. "What does the book say" vs "What is the book saying"
  2. "What does your intuition say" vs " What is your intuition saying"

How am I supposed to know the right answer as a non-native English speaker?

  • 1
    What do you already know about the difference between present simple and present continuous?
    – gotube
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


(1) What does the book say? is by far the most natural. A book isn't in the process of saying something; the information is already printed there.

For (2), both tenses might be possible, if the speaker imagines the other person actively considering what they think.

  • 'What is the book saying' has the curious side-effect of collapsing the metaphor. It conjures the image of the book literally speaking.
    – Robin Betts
    Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 19:46
  • The book says what the words show literally. The book is saying can have the effect of asking for the underlying meaning, interpreting what it says for what it's saying. Just saying. Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 20:32
  • "Most natural" or "more natural"? Aren't there just two?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 2:26
  • @tchrist - You're right, of course. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 8:06
  • 'What is the book saying?' with terminal emphasis could be used to add focus, gravitas (though the same works for the more regular alternative). 'What does the book say?' is easier to deflect. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 11:20

This question has been answered at https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/546439/how-can-i-understand-the-sentence-1b/546441#546441

In short, the "-ing" form (past, present, and future), is used for actions that have started but have not yet finished at the time referred to, i.e. the action is still in progress.

The simple form (past, present, and future) is used to describe the whole event.

In your case, you could use either, but (a) the simple form is commoner (b) which one you use will depend on context.

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