The Present Simple - The Rules

Grammar
How To Use The Present Simple - The Real Rules
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The Present Simple - The Rules

The Present Simple and How to Use It


In the article, I’m going to talk about the present simple today and explain when and how we use this basic tense. It is one of the first tenses we learn when studying English but believe it or not, it is also one of the tenses which students find most difficult to use correctly. (I also recommend you check my last article about the present continuous)

I often see students at an upper-intermediate or advanced level still making mistakes with the present simple especially the third person singular. This is because the third person singular is an exception to the present tense rule and learners don’t usually acquire it until quite late in the language learning process.  

Learners sometimes have difficulty with forming the negative and asking questions because these involve using the modal ‘do’ and, for the negative, ‘not’.  The key to learning how to use the present simple correctly is to study it and make sure you know what to say, practice it as much as you can and write it out to reinforce what you know until it becomes automatic.  Grammatical structures need to move from your short-term, or working, memory to your long-term memory and the only way to do this is to keep practicing until you can retrieve the grammatical structure without thinking about it.

Your short-term memory cannot hold a great deal of information so if you rely on it for learning a language, you will forget what you need as pieces of information not used regularly will be pushed aside for other information you use more.  The long-term memory, on the other hand, has unlimited space so once the information is stored here, it is much easier to access it.

This blog article will explain the following:

  1. When we use the present simple
  2. How to form the present simple
  3. How to make the simple present negative
  4. How to ask a question
  5. Common verbs in the present
  6. The verb to be in the present simple

So what is the present simple?


The Present Simple tense is the most basic tense in English and uses the base form of the verb (except for the verb ‘to be’ which we will explain later in this blog). The only change from the base is the addition of -s for the third person singular.

When do we use the present simple? The present simple is used in the the following situations:

To talk about habits:

I go to work at 8 am every day.
I always eat my lunch in the same café.
I am usually very busy in the afternoon at work.
I never leave work before 5pm.
I generally arrive home at about 5.30pm.

To talk about permanent situations:

Peter lives in Dubai.
Peter works at the library.
He is a librarian.
He loves his work and hopes to stay at the library for many years.

To talk about states:

I like the new film with Robert De Niro.
I don’t like Tom Cruise.
I believe his is a bit arrogant sometimes.
I love the fountains at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

To talk about general truths:

There are 52 cards in a deck of cards.
The sun rises at about 6am in the summer in the Middle East.
It sets at about 6pm in the evening.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.


How do we Form the Simple Present?

In the simple present, most regular verbs use the root form (also called the base or the infinitive without to), except for the third-person singular (he, she, it) which ends in -s.


First-person singular: I love
Second-person singular: You love
Third-person singular: He/she/it loves (note the ‑s)
First-person plural: We love
Second-person plural: You love
Third-person plural: They love

For a few verbs, the third-person singular ends with -es instead of -s. Typically, these are verbs whose root form ends in o, ch, sh, th, ss, gh,  z


First-person singular: I watch
Second-person singular: You watch
Third-person singular: He/she/it watches (note the ‑es)
First-person plural: We watch
Second-person plural: You watch
Third-person plural: They watch

How to Make the Simple Present Negative

The formula for making a verb in the present simple negative is do/does + not + root. You can also use the contraction don’t or doesn’t instead of do not or does not.
Pauline does not watch TV after work. She doesn’t like watching TV, she prefers reading.
‍Be Careful: Exception with the verb to be

Common Verbs in the Simple Present Negative


First-person singular:  I do not ask / I don’t ask
Second-person singular: You do not ask / You don’t ask
Third-person singular: He/she/it does not ask / He/she/it doesn’t ask
First-person plural: We do not ask / We don’t ask
Second-person plural: You do not ask / You don’t ask
Third-person plural: They do not ask / They don’t ask

How to Ask a Question in the Simple Present

The formula for asking a question in the simple present is do/does + subject + root form of verb .
Examples:

- Do you know how to cook?
- How much does this car cost?

Common Verbs in the Simple Present Question Form


Infinitive: to ask
First-person singular: Do I ask?
Second-person singular: Do you ask?
Third-person singular: Does he/she/it ask?
First-person plural: Do we ask?
Second-person plural: Do you ask?
Third-person plural: Do they ask?


Infinitive: to work
First-person singular:  Do I work?
Second-person singular: Do you work?
Third-person singular: Does he/she/it work?
First-person plural: Do we work?
Second-person plural: Do you work?
Third-person plural: Do they work?

Infinitive: to call
First-person singular:  Do I call?
Second-person singular: Do you call?
Third-person singular:  Does he/she/it call?
First-person plural: Do we call?
Second-person plural: Do you call?
Third-person plural: Do they call?

How to make the Verb’ to be’ in the Simple Present?

Infinitive: to be
First-person singular: I am
Second-person singular: You are
Third-person singular: He/she/it is
First-person plural: We are
Second-person plural: You are
Third-person plural: They are

How to make the verb ‘to be’ negative, the formula is to be + not.


First-person singular:  I am not / I’m not
Second-person singular: You are not / You’re not
Third-person singular: He/she/it is not / He/she/it isn’t
First-person plural: We are not / We aren’t
Second-person plural: You are not / You aren’t
Third-person plural: They are not / They aren’t

How to make questions in the simple present with the verb ‘to be’


First-person singular:  am I?
Second-person singular: are you?
Third-person singular: is he/she/it?
First-person plural: are we?
Second-person plural: are you?
Third-person plural: are they?

I hope you have enjoyed and understood this explanation of the present simple.  To see if you have fully understood, why not read through this text and highlight all present simple verbs.


Reading Exercise

Pedro and Pablo are two cats who live in a small town in the country.  They are both white and have green eyes.  They live together because they are brothers and they do everything together.  Every morning they walk around their neighborhood looking for something to eat and because they are so cute, someone always feeds them.  They usually have a long sleep after breakfast and then they play for a short while.  Every day at about 2pm, it is too hot to do anything so they sleep some more for about three or four hours.  After their nap, they are hungry so they start looking for something to eat.  The friendly neighbors feed them again.  After their evening meal it is time to play so they run around and chase each other for a few hours.  Pedro loves chasing Pablo because he is the oldest cat and he likes to be the boss and Pablo lets his brother chase him because he knows he won’t get hurt.  The two cats don’t fight but it looks like it sometimes.  After playtime, the two brothers eat some more, play some more and then go to sleep, again….

There are 30 examples of the present tense in this short story.  See if you can find them all.

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