Grammar: Talking about the present

Grammar: The present
Intermediate (B1-B2)

Read the conversation between friends Jane and Sam. Think about the verb forms used and what they mean.

Jane: Hello Sam. I haven’t seen you for a while. How are things?
Sam: Not bad. I’ve been busy. I’m doing a part-time degree in Chinese.
Jane: That sounds interesting. How often do you go to college?
Sam: Usually about twice a week but I study a lot at home too
Jane: I’m sure you do.

The verb forms in bold all have a connection with the present but they are not the same as each other. Below I have tried to explain their meaning in the context of the conversation:

1. I’ve been busy = in the recent past and at the moment there is little free time in my life

2. I’m doing (a degree) = I am now a student but my course will finish in the future

3. How often do you go (to college) = how many times in a week or month

4. I study = studying at home is a regular thing for me (but perhaps I’m not doing any today!)

This shows that when people speak English they are not simply talking about what happened in the past or what is happening in the present or about what is going to happen in the future. Usually there is a mix of past, present, future or non-specific time.

Remember that learning ‘the present tense’ is not the same as learning about how to refer to present time!! English verb forms often have a variety of uses and meanings.