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When talking of a task somebody is trying to achieve, is it better to use the present tense or the present progressive tense?

Between the following sentences, I find the first more correct.

I am trying to calculate the minimum angle for which the range of the projectile is maximum.

I try to calculate the minimum angle for which the range of the projectile is maximum.

Both these sentences seem fine, to me.

I am trying to be a better person.

I try to be a better person.  

Is there any difference between the sentences I used, or should the same tense used for both the group of sentences?

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    I think there is no difference between English and Italian here. For example, if you are trying to be a better person now use "I'm trying" and if you try to be a better person every day use 'I try'. However now could be refered to a long period, too--a week, a month, etc. So, in this case, use "I'm trying" :^) – user114 Apr 6 '13 at 9:26
  • I dunno. In Italian, tento di essere una persona migliore would make me think there is more that person is going to say, for example tento di essere una persona migliore, ma fallisco ogni volta. I don't know if it is the same in English. – kiamlaluno Apr 6 '13 at 9:30
  • kiam, have you seen what Barrie said. So, I'm right and this mean that I finally learned something :) – user114 Apr 6 '13 at 9:32
  • kiam, interesting! I hope Italian Language and Usage starts as soon as possible. It seems IL&U is ormai not more procrastinabile. – user114 Apr 6 '13 at 9:37
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I'll switch the "goal" to something a little more specific...

If you say "I am trying to eat more fresh fruit", the normal implication is you're making that effort right now. It doesn't say much about how long you've been trying, or how successfully. So most likely there's also the implied meaning that you haven't reached your goal of eating sufficient fresh fruit yet.

If you say "I try to eat more fresh fruit", the normal implication is that by habit, for some significant amount of time, you've been eating more fresh fruit than you would have done if you hadn't bothered to make any effort in that direction. So must likely the implied meaning is you do in fact eat enough fresh fruit, but you're aware (and are reminding someone else) that it requires some effort for you to achieve this.


OP's "I try to calculate the minimum angle..." would therefore be an unlikely thing to say, because you wouldn't normally be in the habit of doing this. That's not to say it's an invalid construction - it's perfectly grammatical. But you'd probably only use it in some contrived "narrative" context chronologically and sequentially describing each thing that you do, as you do it.

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{1} I am trying to calculate the minimum angle for which the range of the projectile is maximum.
{2} I try to calculate the minimum angle for which the range of the projectile is maximum.

Because the first sentence is present progressive, it's reporting what you're doing right now.

Because the second sentence is simple present, it's reporting habitual behavior, e.g., "Whenever I find myself having to determine X, I always try to calculate the minimum angle...".

{3} I try to be a better person.
{4} I am trying to be a better person.

The third sentence reports an ongoing effort: My goal in life is to become a better person.

The fourth sentence tells the listener that you are making an effort to become a better person at this moment, right now, just as in sentence 1.

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All four sentences are grammatical, but the present tense and the present progressive construction have different functions. A grammar book for foreign learners will explain the difference in detail, but, briefly, the present tense is typically used to describe something that is always the case. If you say I try to be a better person, you mean that improving yourself is one of your general aims in life.

The present progressive construction, on the other hand, describes what is happening more or less at the time of speaking. I am trying to be a better person tells us what you are doing now, or at least for the time being.

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