I remember when I was studying at Universität Potsdam one summer, I tried to make a sentence using the present continuous tense…in German. My German professor sighed, looked at me and said, “Erin, I told you yesterday. There is no present continuous tense in German.”

And there isn’t. So this may be a tricky grammar point for you if you’re learning English and your native language also doesn’t have a present continuous tense. But don’t worry- we’ll break it all down for you right here!

Bonus: All examples of present continuous in this blog are underlined. After reading the explanations, try to analyze why they are used!  

What is the Present Continuous?

The present continuous tense (also called present progressive-they are exactly the same!) is made up of the present form of “to be” plus the present participle of the verb (verb + ing).

Present Continuous Form:

To be + verbing

So in present tense: [am / are / is ] + verbing

This tense is used to describe something that is happening at the moment you are speaking. For example: “I am reading,” (right now) or “The dog is sleeping” (right now).

How do you use Present Continuous in German?

As I mentioned earlier, the present continuous tense doesn’t exist in German. If we take the example “I am reading“, in German we would really only say, “Ich lese”, and context would sort out the time for us.  “Ich lese” can mean in English either “I read” (Simple Present = in general) or “I am reading” depending on the context of the sentence.

The closest thing that comes to the present continuous in German is “Ich lese gerade,” or “I am reading (currently).” German doesn’t have a separate tense to mean right now, they just throw in a time word to make the sense clear.

The beauty (special, exceptional thing) of this tense (and quite a few of our English tenses) is that we don’t actually need to say “now” or “at the moment” for the time to be understood. If you say, “I am reading”, the person you are talking to knows that you are doing that right now because you used the present continuous to describe it. Voilà! No signal words needed!

When else can you use the present continuous?

The present continuous can be use for a few different situations. Besides the standard examples above, here are some other ways you can use this tense:

  • when something is happening in general (in life), but not necessarily at the moment you’re talking about it. For example: Jane is looking for a new job. Jane might not be looking for a job right at this very moment, but it is something she is working on. It is “in progress” so to speak. Other examples would be “She is learning English,” or “They are building a house in the country.” They may not be doing it at this exact moment, but they are in the middle of this process, so to speak.
  • when talking about something that is happening temporarily. For example: It is raining. While it might be raining right now, it will probably stop sometime in the near future.
  • when discussing current trends. For example: Gas prices are falling. The price of gas has been going down over time, though it might not be dropping this very instant.
  • when you’re talking about plans in the near future. For example: I am flying home in February. You know you are flying home soon, and it’s likely that your plans won’t change – you are 100% sure.

Why not try out the present continuous on your own? Leave some of your favorite examples in the comments!

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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and wishes she were that girl running in the picture above! Whoo hoo!    

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