Using the simple present

This lesson is in two parts. Page 1 explained how to form the English simple present. Page 2 describes how to use it.

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In English, the simple present has two primary functions:

  • state facts
  • describe habitual actions

The simple present state facts and concepts that never change.

Water freezes at 0° Celsius.sun rises in the east.

Ice floats.

The simple present also describes habitual actions.

I take the train to go to work.lish at the university.

It always rains here in January.

Verbs conjugated in the simple present are often preceded by an adverb of frequency. The range of frequency includes all possibilities, from never to always. Here are the most common English adverbs of frequency.

0% ―――> ―――> 50% ―――> ―――> 100%
never rarely sometimes often always
almost never occasionally almost always
infrequently   frequently
seldom normally
usually

Examples with adverbs of frequency:

I never drink tea. I always drink coffee.>We sometimes play tennis on Saturday.

He rarely watches TV. He usually reads.

Note that the adverb of frequency is usually* placed between the subject and the verb.

subject adverb verb noun
He rarely watches TV.

*There are two exceptions.

1. The adverbs normally and usually are often placed at the beginning of a sentence and followed by a comma.

adverb subj. verb  
Normally, Susan reads biographies.
Usually, they drink coffee.

2. In phrases formed with the verb BE , the adverb follows BE.

subject verb adverb adjective
This restaurant is often crowded.
Tom and Sue are always late.

The adjective every is frequently joined with a temporal noun (minute, day, week, year…) to form phrases with the simple present.

She plays the piano every day.
Every day, she plays the piano.

We pay our electric bill every month.
Every month, we pay our electric bill

It rains every weekend.
Every weekend, it rains.

Note that every + the temporal noun can be placed either at the end of the sentence or at the beginning of the sentence followed by a comma.

Warning! The simple present is not used to describe an action that is occurring at the moment of speaking. In these situations English requires the present progressive .

correct   incorrect
Be quiet. The baby is sleeping. Be quiet. The baby sleeps.
Tom isn’t here. He is working. Tom isn’t here. He works.
I am talking. Don’t interrupt. I talk. Don’t interrupt.

 
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