Updated: Mar 22
When to use the Present Simple, how to form it, how to ask and answer questions, and make negative sentences, including common mistakes.
When to use the Present Simple
The Present Simple is the most commonly used verb tense in English and it is also the easiest as its form is identical to the basic verb form (to go - I go) and the subject-verb agreement applies only to the third person when we add the ending -s or -es.
We use the Present Simple tense to talk about things in general - to say something exists or is a fact. We also use it when we want to talk about events that take place all the time or repeatedly or things that are always true.
Examples in sentences
NYC lies on the East Coast of the USA - in general, it's a fact
This shop is open from 8a.m. to 8p.m. - all the time
I wake up around 7a.m. every day - it happens repeatedly
It's dark at night - always true
Present Simple is indefinite, meaning we don't know if the action is in progress or completed. To talk about actions in progress we use the Present Continuous (I'm doing this now) and to say whether something is completed or not in the present we use the Present Perfect tense (I've done this), which is going to be an important piece of information when we'll be looking at common mistakes.
How to form the Present Simple
We call this tense simple because its basic form is made of a single word unlike continuous or perfect tenses, which are made of two words (am doing and have done).
The verb in the Present Simple needs to agree with the subject in the third person singular only and we do that by adding the ending -s or -es:
I work - she/he works
I finish - she/he finishes
We add -es after -s, -sh and -ch :
pass - passes, finish - finishes, watch - watches
To pronounce these forms we add an extra syllable to the verb in the third person singular, like this:
pass - 1 syllable
pas - ses - 2 syllables
fin - ish - 2 syllables
fin - ish - es - 3 syllables
Don't add extra syllables in verbs that do not end with -s, -sh and -ch:
give - 1 syllable
gives - 1 syllable
breathe - 1 syllable
breathes - 1 syllable
After -y we also add -es and the -y is spelled as -i:
study - studies, fly - flies, try - tries, cry - cries
How to ask questions - do/does
Since we always ask questions using auxiliary rather than main verbs and the Present Simple consists of just one verb (main verb) in its basic form we need to add an auxiliary to ask questions.
For general or yes/no questions we use the auxiliary verb do for all persons except the third person singular that takes the auxiliary does. We put the auxiliary before the subject, at the beginning of the question:
Do I work?
Does she/he work?
The intonation in yes/no questions is rising.
We also add auxiliary verbs before the subject in detailed or wh-questions, it goes before the subject right after the question word:
Where do you work?
Where does she work?
The intonation in those questions is falling.
Questions without auxiliary verbs do and does
To be questions
The verb to be is the only remaining verb in English that forms questions without any other auxiliary verbs. To form a question we just put the verb to be at the beginning of the question:
It's a really big house. - Is it a really big house? (not Does it is a really...)
My friends are here. - Are your friends here? (not Do you friends are...)
I'm Luke. - Are you Luke? (not Do you are...)
We don't use auxiliary verbs do and does in subject questions. Most subject questions start with who or what.
What happens when a person dies? (not What does happen...)
Who says so? (not Who does say...)
Who does that? (not Who does do...)
How to form negatives
We form negatives with auxiliary do and does and not. It's don't for all persons except the third person singular when it's doesn't.
I work long hours. - I don't work long hours.
We live on the outskirts. - We don't live on the outskirts.
She studies German. - She doesn't study German.
How to answer questions
Yes / No questions
We don't usually answer questions using main verbs:
Do you live in London?
Yes, I live.
To answer Yes / No questions we use so called short answers, like this:
Do you live in London?
+ Extra Info
I was born here.
I live in Brighton.
Detailed or wh-questions
To answer a detailed question in a formal setting or when we wan't to be really clear, we usually form a full sentence, like this:
Where do you live?
I live in Boston, MA.
In an informal setting it can be shortened to:
Where do you live?
These are the most common mistakes I heard my students make starting with the most elementary.
1. Answering questions using main rather than auxiliary verbs
2. Keeping -s at the end of the main verb in the third person singular questions
3. Using the Present Simple for activities taking place at the time of speaking (we use the Present Continuous)
4. Using the Present Simple to talk about the duration of events that started in the past and is still going on ( we use the Present Perfect)
5. Using the Present Simple for future arrangements (we use the Present Continuous
I devised plenty of useful exercises to help my students use English tenses correctly. If you're interested in practising the use of the Present Simple, you can book a private lesson with me (subject to availability); I'd be delighted to help you with it!