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Why is Present Continuous used after when/if/what clauses, if the Present Simple tense is preferable in the sentences with general meaning after if, when they refer to future/present?

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The app has lots of prompts to alert you when you're doing something that could hurt your credit score, such as getting too close to a payment date while having drawn down 30 percent or more of your credit line.

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The present continuous emphasizes action in real time.

For example, an announcement is made repeatedly over the train-station loud speaker:

The [garbled] will be approximately [garbled] minutes late due to [garbled].
The [garbled] will be approximately [garbled] minutes late due to [garbled].

A passenger waiting in the station could turn to another and ask:

What is he saying?

P.S.

The implication is that speaker and listener are in a situation where this announcement might be made yet another time. The present continuous refers to it as something which is ongoing or repeating.

If the speaker believed that the announcement is not likely to be made again, or is perceiving the announcement as something that took place a moment ago, the question would probably be:

What did he say?

In this particular contextual example, the question would not be asked in the simple present:

unidiomatic What does he say?

unless it referred to a specific place in the announcement:

What does he say after "due to"?

What is he saying after "due to"?

The answer could be, respectively:

He says "due to switching problems".

He is saying "due to switching problems".

The simple present there would refer to the phrase that follows "due to" in the announcement as one that occurs with some predictability or regularity: he says it in the same way each time he says it.

The continuous would refer to the phrase that follows "due to" in the announcement as one that we are hearing him say again and again.

P.P.S.

Even if the announcement comes over the loud-speaker once:

[garbled] [garbled] [garbled] [garbled] emergency [garbled] [garbled] [garbled]

a person might turn to a fellow passenger, even as the announcement is continuing, and ask:

Can you understand what he is saying?

The announcement is in progress.

  • Could you elaborate on this? I've read a lot of grammar books, including Practical English Usage by Michael Swan and I haven't found the answer. The structure with Present Continuous is very often used in different texts, I've noticed. Could you say a little bit more about it? What about "if" in the general types of sentences? Could you tell my why is the Present Continuous tense used in my examples? – masterkomp Jul 3 '16 at 14:15
  • I've added a postscript. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 3 '16 at 14:30
  • Ok, I understand your examples. But what about my examples which I found on websites/magazines? They aren't announcements. – masterkomp Jul 3 '16 at 14:40
  • Your examples lack context and it's a waste of time to discuss nuances in a vacuum. But in general, the continuous emphasizes the ongoing aspect of the action. It is perceived to be something that is happening rather than something that happens. Difficult to explain the progressive without using the progressive. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 3 '16 at 14:43
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From a natural American English learner, I can tell you that using the present continuous is how people tend to talk like all of the time.

For this question, I'll use this example: "The app has lots of prompts to alert you when you're doing something that could hurt your credit score, such as getting too close to a payment date while having drawn down 30 percent or more of your credit line."

Imagine this scenario: "One day you decide to do something that hurts your credit score. At the time that day when you do something to hurt your credit score, you are doing something to hurt your credit score, and the app will alert you at that time. For that reason, "to alert you when you're doing something that could hurt your credit score" would be correct.

Grammatically you could use either one, but because both things (the huring and the app response) "actually happen" in the sentence (as opposed to talking about plans) and they also happen at a definable time (as opposed to something vague, like over the course of a day), this construction would be more correct. To the average Am. English speaker, it would just "sound better."

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