When there is no event sequence, the event present generally sounds inappropriately ‘stagey’ or theatrical. We can compare the following as two ways of describing the same action:

I open the cage. | I am opening the cage.

The second sentence, which contains a Progressive verb form, is a natural description in answer to the question What are you doing? But the first sentence is rather dramatic, because it implies the total enactment of the event just at the moment of speaking. If spoken, one would expect it to be accompanied by a gesture or flourish; in writing, it seems incomplete without an exclamation mark. The event use of the Present is generally the ‘marked’ or abnormal alternative to the Progressive Present, because there are few circumstances in which it is reasonable to regard an action as begun and completed at the very moment of speech.

a.  However, the event present does occur exceptionally in ordinary speech in exclamations such as Here COMES my bus! and Up we GO!

b.  The stagey quality of the event present is evident in its employment in old-fashioned theatrical language (not used in present-day English except in fun): The bell tolls! He yields! The spectre vanishes! etc.

Chapter 1 - Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English Verb. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman.

When I was reading this part I felt confused about the stagey or dramatic effect of the present tense. I cannot envisage how it's used in old-day English or in fun. Perhaps I'm short of some imagination (a few GIF pictures could make for a better understanding). Those bolded parts are not specific enough for me. Please help to clarify them.

  • The one context where "I open the cage" would be fully idiomatic is in a role-playing game such as Dungeons and Dragons.
    – Martha
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 21:47
  • @Martha I don't play D&D. Could you explain to me in what scene an avatar would say it?
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 23:01
  • It wouldn't be an avatar (D&D doesn't use that term much, anyway), it'd be the player narrating the actions of his/her character. For example, the GM has set up a situation where the players are camped next to a river, and suddenly a group of trolls attack. The players would then describe what their characters choose to do: "Discretion being the better part of valor, I leave most of my heavy gear behind and jump into the river."
    – Martha
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 0:22

3 Answers 3


Calling it stagey or theatrical might be going a bit too far, but this usage is fairly restricted. The places I can see it being used are for adding emphasis and for giving instructions. It's entirely possible that there are more that I haven't thought of, but these came to mind.

For dramatic effect:

John and Steve are running a foot race and are neck and neck right up to the finish line, when John pulls ahead by an eyelash. John cries out, "I win!"

Sam has been struggling with chemistry for hours, but with Sue's help he finally has a moment of understanding and excitedly says, "I get it!" in triumph.

Sam continues working with more success, but Sue continues to treat him as if he doesn't understand any of the material. Eventually he snaps at her, annoyed, "I get it!"

For conveying instructions, as in a demonstration:

I am showing my daughter how to tie her shoes; we each have a shoe. I say, "First I cross the strings. Next I wrap one end around..."

I am showing my chemistry students how to use a separatory funnel correctly. I say, "First I pour the mixture into the funnel, then I stopper it. Next I invert it and open the stopcock to vent gases..."

Instructing a new dishwasher: "We wash the dishes, rinse them with clean water, dry them, then put them away in their proper spots."


In using the progressive form you express the idea you are in the act/middle of opening the cage. Of course, that's what progressive form means.

At the same time you create an effect as a close-up in a film. We experience visually you performing the act.

The normal form simply states the fact. According to context it can have different meanings. One meaning might be that you stress the idea that you open the cage and that you don't close it.


I don't understand in what way you didn't understand, so I'm going to spell out everything that I understand.


If spoken, one would expect it to be accompanied by a gesture or flourish;

what I understand from that

when the actor is acting/speaking the words he should do some gesture (hand movements) to make it more realistic.

In writing, it seems incomplete without an exclamation mark.

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