12

What is the difference between "I'm teaching at university" and "I teach at university"?

another example: "I work in the library every day" VS "I am working in the library every day"

8

Your two examples are not equivalent.

"I'm teaching at university"
"I teach at university"

My current job is as a teacher. I do this at the university. There is the slight connotation in the first that you are doing that right now whereas the second example is habitual - you do it Monday to Friday, but not necessarily at the time you are speaking.

"I work in the library every day"

Again, habitual. That's what you do for your job, even if you aren't there right now.

"I am working in the library every day"

You are trying to push the 'habitual' behaviour aspect of the first usage onto this sentence, where it doesn't function.
Better would be to re-use the teaching examples from earlier

"I'm working in the library." or
"I work in the library."

You could use the first as an answer to both "Where are you? What are you doing?" & also "What do you do for a living?"

You can imply habitual behaviour in common speech by using the present tense.
The second example is habitual only & can't be really used to describe what you are doing right now.

3

We might as well add an AmE answer, to the BrE and InE answers, since we don't say "at university".

What are you doing at the moment?
-- I'm teaching at a university.

(But you may be a former diplomat or high-ranking public official who plans to go back into politics.)

What is your profession?
-- I teach at a university.

You are a teacher by profession. If you have tenure, you are a professor by profession.

2

The first sentence is present continuous tense, and the second is present simple tense. Present continuous often implies that the action is happening in the present, right now, while present simple tense usually implies that the action is not happening right now. The tense has implications [in brackets] which are unspoken:

Present Continuous Tense
"I am walking [right now]."

Present Simple Tense
"I walk [but I am not walking right now]."

These are not hard and fast rules though, and the description of employment is especially ambiguous because while one may not be engaged in one's work at the moment he is speaking, if he is still employed at that moment, then present continuous tense is acceptable.

If you initiate a statement regarding employment, it's generally correct to use the present simple tense. However, if you're answering a question, it's common to match the tense of the questioner. The following questions are common ways to ask about someone's employment status:

Present Continuous Tense
"What are you doing these days?"
"I'm teaching at university."

Present Simple Tense
"I'm an accountant. What do you do?"
"I teach at university."

However, it is common to include a determiner, such as a, the, this, or that, when discussing universities in American English. The proper use of determiners is outside the scope of this question, but for example:

I teach at a university/I'm teaching at a university.
I teach at the university/I'm teaching at the university.
I teach at this university/I'm teaching at this university.
I teach at that university/I'm teaching at that university.

The proper use of determiners goes a long way toward mastering English and speaking like a native.

2

It seems that the main guidelines have been well discussed here already, but I feel that some examples may help clarify. These are in the form of conversational snippets for context:

Q: What do you do for a living?

A: I teach at a university... I'm teaching at...

Note: Both are acceptable and widely used, but they invoke slightly different moods. While former implies more immediacy (i.e. I'm doing it right now) people regularly speak like this conveying a sense of connection to and intimacy with the activity. One more thing——it would be quite uncharacteristic to add everyday as in your examples. You'd hardly ever say "I teach at a university everyday."

Q: Can you come and help me with this for a moment?

A: I can't. I'm washing my hair.

Note: Never I wash my hair. This would be too broad and irrelevant to the current situation.

Q: Are you speaking at the conference on Saturday?

A: Yes. I'm speaking.

Note: A sense of immediacy and connection to near-future events is depicted in this way. It would be quite uncharacteristic (though not technically wrong) to reply "I will speak," unless, for some reason, a sense of determination were intended.

Q: I'm having trouble handing in all my essays on time. What would you do in my situation?

A: I make sure I do one paragraph a day.

Note: In this case the respondent is giving advice directly from his/her current ongoing experience, so this style of answer is very common. Note also that the question began "what would you do?" and not "what do you do?"

One more:

Q: Would you like a burger?

A: I'm eating a sausage.

or

A: I don't eat meat.

This last example illustrates how the two different tenses, present continuous and simple present, relate to different contexts. The first answer is about an immediate activity while the second one implies ongoing conditions or activities.

I hope these are helpful. I suppose it depends on what type of learner you are. In my case, when I'm learning stuff, it's the examples that usually solidify my understanding, and in most cases the more examples I get the better. Good luck and happy learning!

1

As a profession, you generally 'do' things at places.

I work at Microsoft
I teach at university

As an answer to what you are doing (probably now), you are generally 'doing' things. This talks more about the current status/position of yours. For instance, if someone calls you and asks "What are you doing?/Where are you?"

I'm teaching at university

So, in this context, to tell someone your profession, general verb, and for current the status/position, -ing verb.


In InE, it's absolutely fine to use -ing verb to show the profession. Everyone here understands that.

Meet my friend Vivek. He is working in Infosys.

2
  • Hmm. What is "InE"? – Anixx Jan 22 '15 at 5:08
  • @Anixx Indian English – Maulik V Jan 22 '15 at 5:11
1

In both examples, neither present simple nor progressive simple refers to what one is doing at the exact moment of utterance. Both sentences refer to action over time.

What is the difference between "I'm teaching at university" and "I teach at university"?

The verb is 'teach', which is an event verb (as opposed to a 'state' verb such as 'be'.) As such, the simple present refers to an undefined duration that includes the past and future and, of course, the present moment of speaking. In this sentence, it is referring to a series of repeated events, that is, habitual action over time. The duration is not limited.

The progressive present, by contrast, refers to an ongoing action that includes the present. But it refers to an action ('event') that is limited, that is, it is subject to change; it is not permanent.

"I am teaching at the university [nowadays, but who knows how long it will last; it is subject to change]"

"I teach at university [and there is no implication that the habitual action will end]"

another example: "I work in the library every day" VS "I am working in the library every day"

The basic meanings are the same. 'Work' ia also an event verb. For the simple present, it just reiterates that we are talking about a series of repeated events, I work, such that it includes "every day."

I work in the library every day [and there is no implication that this will change].

For the progressive present, the meaning is not altered from the first example:

"I am working in the library every day [nowadays, but who knows how long this will last; it is not permanent. ].

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