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Present simple

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Present simple

The simple present or present simple is one of the verb forms associated with the present tense in modern English. It is commonly referred to as a tense, although it also encodes certain information about aspect in addition to present time.

It is called "simple" because its basic form consists of a single word (like write or writes), in contrast with other present tense forms such as the present progressive (is writing) and present perfect (has written). For nearly all English verbs the simple present is identical to the base form (dictionary form) of the verb, except when the subject is third-person singular, in which case the ending -(e)s is added. There are a few verbs with irregular forms, the most notable being the copula be, which has the simple present forms am, is and are.

The principal use of the simple present is to refer to an action or event that takes place habitually, as in He writes for a living (in contrast to the present continuous, which refers to something taking place at the present moment: He is writing a letter now). However certain verbs expressing a state, such as be and know, are used in the simple present even when referring to a temporary present state. There are also certain other uses (including those mentioned in the following paragraph) in which the simple present does not reflect a habitual aspect.

Like other English present tense forms, the simple present has certain uses in which it does not refer to present time. It frequently refers to the future, as in "My train leaves tomorrow" and "If we win on Saturday, ...". It can also sometimes refer to past events – as in newspaper headlines, for example.

For more information about the uses of constructions related to or contrasting with the simple present, see Uses of English verb forms.

Formation

The basic form of the simple present is the same as the base form of the verb, unless the subject is third person singular, in which case a form with the addition of -(e)s is used. For details of how to make this inflected form, see .

The copula verb be has irregular forms: am (first person singular), is (third person singular) and are (second person singular and all persons plural). The modal verbs (can, must, etc.) have only a single form, with no addition of -s for the third person singular.

The above refers to the indicative mood of the simple present; for the formation and use of the subjunctive mood, see English subjunctive. (The defective verb beware has no simple present indicative, although it can be used in the subjunctive.)

The present simple of lexical verbs has an expanded form which uses do (or does, in the third person indicative) as an auxiliary verb. This is used particularly when forming questions and other clauses requiring inversion, negated clauses with not, and clauses requiring emphasis. For details see do-support. For the verbs (auxiliary and copular) which do not make this form, as well as the formation and use of contracted forms such as 's, isn't and don't, see English auxiliaries and contractions.

All forms of the simple present are given below, using the verb write as an example:

  • Basic simple present indicative:
    • I write
    • You write
    • He/she/it writes
    • We write
    • You write
    • They write
  • Expanded simple present indicative (with question, negative, and negative question forms):
    • I do write (Do I write? I do not/don't write. Don't I/Do I not write?)
    • You do write (Do you write? You do not/don't write. Don't you/Do you not write?)
    • He/she/it does write (Does he write? He does not/doesn't write. Doesn't he/Does he not write?)
    • We/you/they do write (Do we write? We do not/don't write. Don't we/Do we not write?)
  • Simple present subjunctive (affirmative):
    • (that) I/you/he/she/it/we/they write
  • Simple present subjunctive, negative:
    • (that) I/you/he/she/it/we/they not write

Usage

The principal uses of the simple present are listed below.

  • To refer to an action or event that takes place habitually. In the other hand to remark habits, general realities, repeated actions or unchanging situations, emotions and wishes.[1] Such uses are often accompanied by frequency adverbs and adverbial phrases such as always, sometimes, often, usually, from time to time, rarely and never. Examples:
I always take a shower.
I never go to the cinema.
I walk to school.
He writes for a living.
She understands English.
This contrasts with the present progressive (present continuous), which is used to refer to something taking place at the present moment: I am walking now; He is writing a letter at the moment.
  • With stative verbs in senses that do not use progressive aspect (see ), to refer to a present or general state, whether temporary, permanent or habitual.
You are happy.
I know what to do.
A child needs its mother.
I love you.
The label says "External use only."
  • It can similarly be used when quoting someone or something, even if the words were spoken in the past:
The label says "External use only."
Mary says she's ready.
  • To refer to a single completed action, as in recounting the events of a story in the present tense (see historical present), and in such contexts as newspaper headlines, where it replaces the :
In Hamlet, Ophelia drowns in a stream.
40-year-old wins gold medal
  • Sometimes to refer to an arranged future event, usually with a reference to time:
We leave for Berlin tomorrow at 1 pm.
Our holiday starts on the 20th May.
  • In providing a commentary on events as they occur:
I chop the chives and add them to the mixture.
Ronaldo dribbles round the defender and shoots.
  • In describing events in some theoretical or planned situation that is under consideration:
According to the manager's new idea, I welcome the guests and you give the presentation.
  • In many dependent clauses referring to the future, particularly condition clauses, clauses expressing place and time, and many relative clauses (see ):
If he finds your sweets, he will eat them.
We will report as soon as we receive any information.
  • simple present is also used in zero conditional sentences in both parts of the sentence.[2]
Ice melts if you heat it.
Plants die if they don't get enough water.
  • In certain situations in a temporal adverbial clause, rather than the present progressive:
We can see the light improving as we speak.

In colloquial English it is common to use can see, can hear for the present tense of see, hear, etc., and have got for the present tense of have (denoting possession). See .

See also

References

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