# Present Continuous vs. Present Simple

My thought process:

1. We all know that progressive tenses are, to put it simply, used to talk about an action in progress:
• I'm having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner is in progress at 2:00)

• I was having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner was in progress at 2:00)

• I will be having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner will be in progress at 2:00)

1. Simple tenses are used to say when an action starts.
• I have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner starts at 2:00)

• I had my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner started at 2:00)

• I will have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner will start at 2:00)

That seems logical to me. Let's go further.

1. In many books you can find the following explanation for "present progressive for future":

We usually use the present continuous tense for future arrangements.

e.g.

• I'm seeing my friend tomorrow.

OK, I understand the rules so far. It is a future event that has been arranged. Perhaps I have called my friend and we agreed on meeting sometime tomorrow.

4.Now this is the part that I don't understand:

• I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow.

I am totally lost here.

As present continuous is used to talk about future arrangements, in the sentence above I need to use the present continuous. If I change the tense to the present simple (which is used to talk about future events that are scheduled) it will change the meaning of what I am going to say. It will sound like a timetable or like a schedule, which the sentence above is not - it's just an arrangement I made with a friend of mine.

However, as the present continuous is used to talk about actions in progress, does the sentence I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow. mean that my appointment will be in progress at 2:00 or will start at 2:00?

A very important question: What do you feel would be the best way to express a future arrangement that starts at a certain time in future?

• If you're talking about a time certain, use the simple: I see my friend at 2:00 tomorrow. If you're talking about something less formal, use the progressive: "I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow." The progressive sense implies continuing action, so no one will be surprised if you meet your friend at 1:55 and you're still talking at 2:05. (In the bizarre world of English spelling, you don't want "continues" con-TIN-uze, which is the present tense of "continue." You want "continuous" con-TIN-you-us, meaning ongoing.) Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 21:12
• Can you say how 'I'm having a dinner at 2:00' means '… eating dinner is in progress at 2:00'? Don't you think that really means 'I will be having (a) dinner at 2:00' and (prolly separately) the 'a' is superfluous? Broadly, 'I'm having a dinner…' strongly suggests the dinner is a formal one, with guests… while 'I'm having dinner…' suggests nothing but I myself will be dining Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 22:40

Your initial examples are not as unambiguous as you think, and that is probably leading to later confusion. The continuous effect is not as baked in as you make it out to be.

"I'm having dinner at 2:00" actually sounds like dinner is scheduled to start at 2:00.

"I was having dinner at 2:00" could it was ongoing in the past at 2:00, or the 'was' could be subjunctive introducing doubt, meaning plans were changed ("I was having dinner at 2:00, but I missed the bus so we ate at 3:00"). Or even just that plans have been cast into doubt (eg "I was going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters" -L. Skywalker)

"I will be having dinner at 2:00" could be grammatically be either ongoing or a scheduled start.

Your simple tense examples mostly work, although "I have my dinner at 2:00" sounds like it means "I have dinner at 2:00 every day" more normal usage for a specific upcoming event is "I will have dinner at 2:00"

Anyway, the main point is that the 'ongoing nature' isn't as firm a rule as you are looking for. So that's why there's nothing broken about "I'm having dinner at 2:00 tomorrow" with 2:00 being the start time.

• Thanks for your reply elc. So, the way I understand it now - the "progressive" nature of the continous tenses is sometimes defied by various contexts that push their own meanings and express other aspects of time. Depending on where the continues form is used, the "ongoing nature" might be treated less or more literary. Am I right here?
– IGO
Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 22:10
• Yes, in many of those cases only the context is going to make it clear. Verb conjugation alone is not sufficient because the conjugation is multipurpose. Bracketed words show how ambiguity could be removed. "What time is dinner?" "We will be having dinner [starting] at 2:00." "Can we go swimming at 2:10?" "We will [still] be having dinner at 2:10"
– elc
Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 23:56
• It seems worth noting, these all can mean the same thing: We will have dinner at 2. We are having dinner at 2. We are going to have dinner at 2. (that is wordier, but not uncommon, it emphasizes the scheduling aspect) We will be having dinner at 2. (kind of formal sounding, but 'will be dining' would be better still for that effect)
– elc
Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 0:05
• Thank you for your further comments. One thing i`m not sure about, though. 2. We are going to have dinner at 2. (that is wordier, but not uncommon, it emphasizes the scheduling aspect) <---- Does "going to" really have that scheduling aspect? I thought "i`m going to" sounds less formal and fixed than, say, the simple present and the present continues for future
– IGO
Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 0:22
• You are right that 'going to' isn't formal sounding. Even less so in the vulgarized "We're gonna have dinner at 2" The difference between that and "We're having dinner at 2" is that the "going to" either emphasizes that it is actually happening (if it were a subject of doubt) or it emphasizes the timing (in the future) or it's needless extra words, that certainly happens too.
– elc
Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 22:56

In this example present continuous is used with the same meaning as future continuous. This is a common way to use the present continuous tense to refer to future events, in a informal way.

"I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow."

"I'm going to see my friend at 2:00 tomorrow."

Both mean the same. As simple as that :)

1. My thought process:

We all know that progressive tenses are, to put it simply, used to talk about an action in progress:

I'm having a dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner is in progress at 2:00)

It doesn't mean dinner is in progress because of the time expression. It is the present continuous tense used to talk about an activity or action planned for future.

I am having dinner now (means eating dinner is in progress)

I was having dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner was in progress at 2:00)

This sentence is okay. It can be a reply to "What were you doing at 2.00 ?

I will be having dinner at 2:00. (eating dinner will be in progress at 2:00

It can also mean you would start having dinner.

1. Simple tenses are used to say when an action starts.

I have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner starts at 2:00)

I had my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner started at 2:00)

I will have my dinner at 2:00. (My dinner will start at 2:00)

The explanations in the bracket are correct. The first sentence can also mean that it is your daily habit to have dinner at 2.00

However, as the present continuous is used to talk about actions in progress, does the sentence

I'm seeing my friend at 2:00 tomorrow. mean that my appointment will be in progress at 2:00 or will start at 2:00?

"It means your appointment starts at 2.00.*

A very important question: What do you feel would be the best way to express a future arrangement that starts at a certain time in future?

I am answering this with an example of how and why this can be expressed in different ways.

Will vs going to vs present continuous.

Present continuous and also (going to + infinitive) is used to talk about planned actions for the future. Explanation is given below:

Will : We use will to talk about spontaneous plans decided at the moment of speaking. Suppose your friend called you on Monday and informed you that they have planned a pot luck party on the weekend.

You reply, " I will bring fruit salad." (You decided at the time of speaking.)

going to = We use going to to talk about plans decided before the moment of speaking. Now suppose a friend called you on Wednesday and asked, "What are you bringing for the party?" You reply, "I am going to bring fruit salad." (As you have planned this on Monday)

Present continuous; We usually use the present continuous when the plan is an arrangement – already confirmed with at least one other person and we know the time and place. Now when you are preparing the fruit salad on Saturday. You tell a friend, "I am bringing fruit salad for the party."