Okay, so it seems today's my day of banal questions. But, hey, everyone has one from time to time. My doubts occured when I wanted to translate a sentence to English.

She's usually very talkative when we travel to school.

Yet something rang a bell, and left me a little bit confused. I'm sure I've heard many sentences that utilize present continuous in such cases, making the sentence look like this:

She's usually very talkative when we're traveling to school.

Is it correct though? Or should I always stick to present simple when I'm talking about recurring situations and habits, which means that the following structures are incorrect?

I love it when she smiles when I'm kissing her.

When I'm drinking tea, I like to relax and let my thoughts flow.

Gah, it's embarrassing to pose such basic questions :<

Also, I would appreciate it if you could correct mistakes in my posts, should any appear.

2 Answers 2


This is idiomatic:

... when we're traveling to school.

It expresses the idea of being en route on recurrent journeys to school.

And this too is idiomatic:

... when we travel to school.

It expresses the idea of recurrent journeys to school.

Verbs of locomotion already contain an idea of continuous progress, so it might seem that "are traveling" is redundant, or otiose, but the participle does emphasize the being-on-the-journey aspect.

I love it when she smiles when I'm kissing her.

Too many "whens" on the dance-floor. I would say:

I love it when she smiles as I'm kissing her.

"As" expresses simultaneity. But "when" is OK too.

The participle emphasizes the act-in-progress, but since "kiss" is another of those verbs that already contain in themselves the idea of ongoingness, "am kissing" is not necessary; "as I kiss her" would mean much the same thing.

When I'm drinking tea, I like to relax and let my thoughts flow.

Again, "When I drink" or "When I'm drinking" are both idiomatic. The "rule" is simply this: "Simple present can express the idea of recurrent/habitual/customary action." But so can the present participle in combination with other time-words (e.g. "when"). The latter expresses the idea of a recurrent, habitual, or customary action being in progress.

  • It seems I'm trying too hard to impose very strict grammar rules on things I'm saying, while in fact it's pointless, since the language is a flexible matter, and there's no one universal way of expressing things; your answer seems to only subscribe to that opinion. Still, if you were to choose one of those versions, which one would you opt for? I'd also like to hear your take on the other sentences.
    – Bebop B.
    Jan 3, 2015 at 12:43
  • I'll add to the answer.
    – TimR
    Jan 3, 2015 at 12:52
  • Sure thing. If you don't mind me asking, I'm also curious about the difference between "Police fight crime every day" and "Police are fighting crime every day".
    – Bebop B.
    Jan 3, 2015 at 12:57
  • My answer addresses the difference.
    – TimR
    Jan 3, 2015 at 13:07
  • Thank you for your help, buddy! I wish more people could explain grammar as well as you do.
    – Bebop B.
    Jan 3, 2015 at 14:35

If you mentally replace "when" with "while", the grammar gets clearer:

She's usually very talkative...

note the keyword usually, which points out the habit -> use simple present here.

...when (= while) we're traveling to school.

this emphasizes a continuous action or a stretch of time -> use present continuous.

  • So the second version is the correct one, right? What about other sentences? Does that mean that every "when" or "while" marks a continuous action, and present continuous is the only passable tense there?
    – Bebop B.
    Jan 3, 2015 at 0:43
  • If you want to focus on the continuous action, use present continuous (hence the name!), if you focus on the fact, use simple present. "while" is a pretty good indicator for cont., "when" depends on context as it can mean a certain time ("when Harry met Sally") or a stretch of time (as in your examples).
    – Stephie
    Jan 3, 2015 at 0:52
  • And that's exactly the answer I've been looking for! :) It's all clear now - in fact I don't know why I doubted it in the first place. Must have been a really tough day for me.
    – Bebop B.
    Jan 3, 2015 at 1:01

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