Part Three Editing / Grammar Skills

Unit 11 Expressing Meaning in Present Tenses

Learning Objectives

  1. To learn the principles in using appropriate verb tenses
  2. To understand the meanings and verb forms of four present tenses – simple present, present progressive, present perfect, and present perfect progressive – through multiple examples
  3. To differentiate the meanings and uses between different tenses
  4. To practice using the appropriate present tenses in a variety of writing situations

 

I. Pretest

currencies from different countries
currencies from different countries

The following ten sentences are related to the topic of money. Some of the verbs are bold-faced. If the bold-faced verb is correct, choose “correct”.  If not, choose one of the other two answers. After you finish one sentence, you will get instant feedback on your answer before the next sentence. If you make mistakes, you can retry all the questions or see all the answers at the end of the pre-test.

 

II. Principles in Using Verb Tenses

  1. Always start with meaning. The purpose of communication is to convey[1] meaning. Therefore, it is important to start with the question: What ideas am I trying to express to others?
  2. Use the appropriate verb tense and verb form as tools to express your meaning. Each verb tense uses a different verb form. The verb form shows which verb tense is being used. These two concepts are connected and must be understood as an inseparable[2] “pair”.  For example,  if you want to write about current activities, you should use a present tense and should not use a past verb form with an “ed” ending.
  3. Time words are extremely important. They are like traffic signs to guide you and your readers. Your time words, verb tenses, and verb forms should all match each other in order to express your meaning clearly.  For example, If you are describing an event in progress at the moment of speaking, you should not use a time word such as “yesterday”.

 

III. Four Present Verb Tenses

In this unit, you are going to focus on expressing ideas in the present. There are four present tenses:

  • Simple present:   Money plays an important role in society.
  • Present progressive:   My friend Rubina is exchanging money at the airport right now.
  • Present perfect:   In the past two weeks, she has told her friends about her upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic.
  • Present perfect progressive:   She has been waiting in line for ten minutes.

 

IV. Expressing Meaning in Simple Present

 

For detailed explanations and practice in verbs, open Unit 9 here.

 

Verb Forms in Simple Present

 

1. When “am”, “is”, or “are” is the main verb, do not use a “do” verb. In the same way, when the main verb is a “do” verb, do not use “am”, “is”, or “are”.

  • Money is important.
  • Money is plays an important role in our lives.

2. If “he”, “she”, or “it” is the subject of a sentence and a “do” verb is the main verb, add an “s” to the end of the main verb.

  • Many people save money because it gives them a sense of security[3].

3. If “he”, “she”, or “it” is the subject in a question or negative sentence, leave off the “s” at the end of the main verb since you already have the helping verb “does” or “doesn’t”.

  • Does money guarantee[4] happiness? No, it does not.

 

Meaning, Common Expressions, and Examples in Simple Present

 

Meaning #1:  facts and truths

Common time expressions and frequency adverbs:  always, constantly, frequently, usually, often, generally, sometimes, seldom, rarely, hardly ever, never …

Examples: Facts and truths about money

the front and back sides of a U.S. one-dollar coin
the front and back sides of a U.S. one-dollar coin
  1. President George Washington’s image is on one side of the one-dollar bill.
  2. President Abraham Lincoln’s image is on one side of the penny.
  3. There are one-dollar coins the U.S.
  4. One-dollar coins are not very common.
  5. A one-dollar coin equals a one-dollar bill in value.
  6. The Department of Treasury[5] manages the currency in the U.S.
  7. Does each state government decide how much tax money to collect?
  8. How do the states collect tax money from the residents?

 

Meaning #2:  current habits, routines, repeated activities

Common time expressions and frequency adverbs:  every day, each night, once a week, twice a day, on Tuesdays …

Examples:  Routine activities and facts

  1. My sister and I usually go shopping on the weekends.
  2. The stores are always crowded then.
  3. We generally get groceries first.
  4. My sister loves buying expensive shoes.
  5. She tries to save money on many things, but she does not save money on shoes.
  6. How much does she spend on shoes each year? Only she knows.
  7. She always says, “I have only 2 feet, but I have only 365 days a year to keep my feet happy!”

 

Exercise 1. Read the following paragraph about allowance. Find ten additional errors and correct them (not including the example). The first one is an example.

Allowance – Beneficial or Not?

        Many children in the U.S. receiving (receive) some money from their parents once a week or every other week. This type of money is called the allowance. People have different opinions about the allowance. Some children getting it in exchange for doing household chores like washing the dishes and taking care of a younger sibling[6]. However, should helping the family be part of the child’s education about responsibilities? Besides, most children does not need to “work” for money. They receive it “for free”! The amount of money start from a few dollars a week and increase as the children grow. According to some experts, the dollar amount can be based on the child’s age. For instance, if a child be five years old, the allowance is five dollars a week. The following year, the child will receive six dollars. Many parents are believe that the allowance is help the children learn the value of money. They also learn to manage their money from an early age. However, other parents does not agree. They question, “Why my children need money? I buy everything for them.” These parents worry that the allowance will make their kids materialistic. They also do not want their children to use the money for unhealthy snacks or addictive[7] computer games. It is hard to say which group of parents are right.

 

Exercise 2. Use the suggested topics below to write short paragraphs with the simple present tense.  Share and discuss your ideas with your partner.

1. Choose a topic from below and write some facts about it. Explain why they are important to you or to the society.

  • money in your native country
  • a season
  • the responsibilities of the president of a country
  • the college you are attending

2. Choose a topic from below and write about some facts or routines. Explain how they make you feel.

  • things you enjoy buying
  • one of your family members at work
  • a typical class session

 

V. Express Meaning in Present Progressive

The present progressive tense usually expresses actions that are going on at the moment of speaking. It is also used to indicate future planned activities. In this unit, you are focusing on the current actions only. For the future planned activities, please refer to Unit 13 Expressing Meaning in Future Tenses. (Open Unit 13 here.)

 

Verb Forms in Present Progressive:  am/is/are + verb-ing

  • Many students are visiting the college library right now.
  • Are they borrowing books? No, they are not.
  • Who is talking to them?
  • A librarian is introducing the library services to them.

 

Meaning, Common Time Expressions, and Examples in Present Progressive

 

Meaning #1:  actions or situations happening at the moment of speaking

Common time expressions:  now, right now, at the moment, at the current moment, at present …

Examples:  about activities going on in the classroom right now

  1. The professor is checking our homework now.
  2. Is Eva sitting next to Maria?
  3. Some students are daydreaming about vacations at the moment.
  4. The teacher is not writing on the board right now.
  5. My two friends and I are not sitting together.
  6. What are the students discussing?

 

Meaning #2 Actions or situations happening during the present period of time or over an extended period of time

Common time expressions:  currently, today, these days, nowadays, this semester …

Examples about the current ongoing situation in extended period of time

  1. College tuition is becoming more and more expensive nowadays.
  2. Sadly for many young people, video games are replacing books.
  3. What type of scholarships are the students receiving this year?
  4. More students are working out in the new fitness center these days.
  5. With more exercise, everyone is becoming healthier.
  6. This is good news even though no one is getting younger!

 

Simple Present vs Present Progressive

 

1. Simple present indicates facts or routine activities. Present progressive expresses ongoing activities at moment of speaking or in extended present period of time.

  • Michelle drives to school on Monday and Wednesday mornings. It is 10 am now on Monday. She is not driving at the moment. She is sitting in the classroom and studying English.
  • I am looking for a new apartment these days. Even though I am sitting in the classroom and listening to the professor right now, my mind is busy with all the images of different apartments.

2. Non-action verbs are NOT used in the present progressive tense. In fact, they are not used in any progressive tenses.

  • The professor is explaining the differences between the simple present and present progressive tenses. Now I understand everything very well.
  • I am at a Susan’s birthday party now. She is singing, and Ana is accompanying her on the piano. The rest of us are watching them and having a good time. Everyone looks happy. I think Susan has the most beautiful voice in the world.

For more information about non-action verbs, please refer to Unit 10 Verb Basics in Academic Writing. (Open Unit 9 here.)

 

Exercise 3. The following paragraph is about finding a parking space on campus. The writer is looking for a spot right now. There are five more errors in the use of simple present and present progressive verbs (not including the example). Find the errors and correct them. The first one is an example.

Seeking a Parking Space

          It is 9:45 am Monday morning. The parking lots at my college are looking (look) full. Many students are try to find a parking spot close to their classroom building. I circling around and around from one parting lot to another. I am seeing an empty space right there! Oh no, another car taking it. I am needing to park my car right away because my class starts at 10 am. There, a car is backing out of a space! I am so glad! It is only steps away from the building entrance. Lucky me! I will not be late today!

 

Exercise 4. Choose one of the suggested topics below to write a short paragraph with appropriate simple present and present progressive verbs. Share and discuss your ideas with your partner.

What is happening these months? Are they mostly positive or negative?

  1. In your life
  2. In your native country
  3. In the United States

 

VI. Express Meaning in Present Perfect

Most people will agree that the present perfect tense is the most challenging of all tenses because it can refer to the past, present, and even future situations. The good news is that your English skills have progressed far enough to be able to understand it. Once you have learned it, the other tenses will look a lot easier!

Have you noticed the three underlined present perfect verbs?

 

Verb Forms in Present Perfect: have/has + past participle

  • Gardening is Sara’s favorite hobby.  She has grown different kinds of vegetables in her backyard for five years.
  • Have you visited her garden? No, I have not, but I have eaten her wonderful home-grown tomatoes.
  • How many times have you eaten Sara’s tomatoes?
  • We have eaten them at least three times this year.

 

For a list of verbs with irregular past tense and past participle spelling, please refer to Appendix D Irregular Verbs. (Open Appendix D here.)

 

Meaning, Common Time Expressions, and Examples in Present Perfect

 

Meaning #1:  an action or a situation that started in the past, continues till present, and may go on into the future

Common time words and other expressions:  since, for, recently, lately, so far, to date, till now, in the past/last two weeks, today, these days, this week, all life …

Examples:   about Jiali’s stamp-collecting hobby

  1. two stamps indicating the Year of Rabbit
    two stamps indicating the Year of Rabbit

    Jiali has loved stamps since she was a child.

  2. She has collected them since she was ten years old.
  3. Has her collection grown a lot in the last two months?
  4. Yes, it has. Her friends have sent her their stamps lately.
  5. How many years has she accumulated[8] stamps?
  6. She has accumulated stamps for over ten years.

 

Meaning #2: an action or a situation that completed at an unspecified time in the past

Common time words and other expressions:   already, before, just, never, yet …(sometimes no time words)

Examples:  about Jiali’s stamp-collecting hobby

  1. Jiali has just joined a stamp-collecting club at her college.
  2. The club has already recruited twenty members.
  3. The club has decided to have a stamp show on campus.
  4. Has Jiali ever received stamp-related gifts?
  5. Yes, She has. Her friends have already bought her illuminated magnifiers[9] and stamp tongs.
  6. Her family has already ordered a special stamp album for her upcoming birthday.
  7. The gift has not arrived yet.

 

Meaning #3:  an action or a situation that was repeated in an unspecified past time or since a past time and may occur again in the future

Common time words and other expressionsonce, two times, a few times, many times …

Examples about Jiali’s stamp-collecting hobby

  1. How many international stamps has Jiali accumulated?
  2. So far, she has gathered over five hundred stamps from different countries.
  3. She has attended the club meeting three times since the beginning of the semester.
  4. She has traded[footnote]trade: verb, exchange[/footnote] eight stamps with her club friends this month.
  5. She has shown her collection to the club members two times.

 

Present Perfect vs Simple Past

The simple past tense is used when an action completed at a specific time in the past. The present perfect tense is used when an action completed or repeated at an unspecified time in the past. It implies that the past action has an effect on the present.

  • Jiali started her stamp collecting hobby at age ten. Her uncle gave her some stamps on her tenth birthday. Since then, she has gathered over five hundred stamps. She has also joined a stamp club at her college.

 

Exercise 6. Read the following paragraph about another hobby “toy Voyaging*. Fill in the blanks with appropriate simple present or present perfect tense. The first one is an example. When you complete the entire exercise, you can click “Check” for feedback. You may retry or see all the answers.

three monkey plastic toys holding hands and traveling
three monkey plastic toys holding hands and traveling

Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ToyVoyagers. Last accessed on August 5, 2021.

 

Exercise 7. Use one of the suggested topics below to write a short paragraph with appropriate tenses. Use at least five present perfect verbs.

  1. What is your favorite hobby? When and how did you start? What have you done with it?
  2. Do you know anyone who has an unusual hobby? What is it? Why is it unusual?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having an unusual hobby?
  4. What is the most fulfilling[10] activity you have done? Why do you feel fulfilled?

 

VII. Expressing Meaning in Present Perfect Progressive

The present perfect progressive tense and the present perfect tense are similar in some ways but different in others.

 

Verb Forms in Present Perfect Progressive: have/has + been + verb-ing

  • Sara has been growing different kinds of vegetables in her backyard in the last five years.
  • Have her family and friends been enjoying her vegetables a lot this summer? Yes, they have.
  • How long has Sara been pursuing[11] this hobby?
  • She has been pursuing this hobby since she was a teenager.

 

Meaning, Common Time Expressions, and Examples in Present Perfect Progressive

 

Meaning#1:  an action or a situation that started in the past, continues till present, and may go on into the future (same as Meaning #1 in present perfect but with more emphasis)

Common time words and other expressions:   since, for, recently, lately, so far, to date, till now, in the past/last 2 weeks, today, these days, this week, all life …

Examples:  about Jiali’s stamp-collecting hobby

stamps from different countries
stamps from different countries
  1. Jiali has been collecting stamps since she was ten years old.
  2. Has her collection been growing a lot in the last two months?
  3. Yes, it has. Her friends have been sending her their stamps lately.
  4. How long has she been accumulating stamps?
  5. She has been accumulating stamps for over ten years.

 

Meaning #2:  an action or a situation that is still going on without a time expression

Common time words and other expressions: not needed

Examplesabout Jiali’s stamp-collecting hobby

  1. With the help of her friends, Jiali’s collection has been growing fast.
  2. The stamp club has been expanding.
  3. Many friends have been showing interest in Jiali’s stamps.

 

Present Perfect vs Present Perfect Progressive

 

1. When used with “since, for, recently, lately, so far, to date, in the past/last two weeks…” both tenses mean actions that started in the past and continue till present. The present perfect progressive emphasizes the ongoing nature of the actions.

  • Jiali has collected stamps since she was ten years old.
  • Jiali has been collecting stamps since she was ten years old. (more emphasis)

2. Unlike the present perfect tense, where the verbs can refer to completed actions or repeated actions, the present perfect progressive verb must be used for an action or situation that is still going on.

  • Jiali has joined a stamp club. (completed in an unspecified time in the past)
  • Jia has collected over five hundred stamps since her hobby started. (completed or repeated since a past time and may continue into future)
  • Her friends have been sending her their stamps in the last two months. (ongoing from two months ago to present and may continue into future)

3. Use present perfect, not present perfect progressive, for nonaction verbs.

  • Jiali has had this hobby for many years.
  • Jiali has loved stamps since she was a child.

 

Exercise 8. Read the following paragraph about Antoni’s hobby. Underline the verbs in each sentence. Then with your partner discuss the use of the verb tense and the meaning of each sentence.

Antoni’s Hobby

a person doing a home improvement project
a person doing a home improvement project

          Doing home improvement projects is Antoni’s hobby. He has been fixing things for his own family and friends’ families for ten years. He has fixed things for his own family and friends’ families for ten years. He did this with his brother Jakub for two years, but then Jakub got married and moved out of the state three years ago. However, Antoni’s interest in home improvement has not changed all these years. He has cleared sewage blockage[12], replaced roof tiles, and installed new floors for his friends. So far, he has resolved “house problems” for at least twenty families. These few weeks, he has been sealing some of the window cracks in his own house. His wife jokes, “Now you are working for me!”

 

Exercise 9. Choose one of the topics and write a paragraph with appropriate tenses. Use present perfect and present perfect progressive verbs when necessary. Share your writing with a partner.

How have your __________ skills been improving lately?

  1. writing
  2. oral communication
  3. time management
  4. social
  5. cooking

 

VIII. Unit Review Practice

Exercise 10. The following paragraph about a favorite hobby is from a previous unit. Fill in the appropriate verb tenses. The first one is an example. When you complete the entire exercise, you can click “Check” for feedback. You may retry or see all the answers.

a person opening a diary
a person opening a diary

 

Exercise 11. The following paragraph is about saving for a cell phone. Choose the correct verb for each question. You will get instant feedback on your answer, retry, or see the answer.

Saving for a New Cell Phone

 

Exercise 12. Read the following paragraph on cell phones. There are nine additional errors in the use of verbs (not including the example). Find the errors and correct them.  The first one is an example.

a cell phone and two ear buds
a cell phone and two ear buds

Android Phones or iPhones?

          More and more people relying (are relying) on cell phones in their daily activities. However, it is hard to decide whether to get an Android phone or an iPhone. Both are popular. Android phones are usually cheaper, but some people are preferring iPhones even though they are more expensive. One of the features of the iPhones are a nicer design and feel. On the other hand, people who like Android phones enjoyed the “open” system. This mean that this type of phone is able to work with more applications than iPhones. As for updates, iPhones provides them more frequently than Android phones. In many other areas such as video conferencing and cloud capabilities, both types of phones enjoy the same level of popularity.

          Which type is better? It should be based on each person’s preferences. I have three cell phones in the past five years: an iPhone and two Androids – a Samsung and a Google Pixel. Every phone have its own beauty, but I love my current Pixel the best for its camera quality. In fact, my Pixel has three cameras in one phone, and I love the images they take. I have been having it for only six months. My next one? I do not know. Technology developing fast. I will wait and see how much more amazing the next generation of cell phones will be.

Exercise 13. Choose one of the following topics to write a letter. Use appropriate tenses.

  1. Write a letter to a company where you wish to work as a ____________ (position). Explain your qualifications and experiences. Explain why you are the best candidate for the position.
  2. You received a grade of C on your last quiz in one of your classes. Write a letter to your professor and explain why you should be given a chance to retake the quiz.

 

 NSNT Practice

a pen writing in a notebook
a pen writing in a notebook

Go to The NSNT Free Writing Approach and Additional Weekly Prompts for Writing in Appendix A. (Open Appendix A here.Choose two topics. You may start with the NSNT approach. Then revise and edit your paragraphs.  Pay attention to the use of present verbs, You are encouraged to share your writing with your partner and help each other improve.

 

Vocabulary Review

a page in a dictionary
a page in a dictionary

The words here have appeared in this unit.  The best way to learn them is to guess the meaning of each word from the context.  Then hover your computer mouse over the number beside each word to check its meaning and part of speech. These words are also listed in the footnote area at the end of each unit.

Here, you can use the flashcards below to review these words.

 

 

 

Summary

1. Always focus on your meaning/ideas when you choose verb tenses.

2. Time words, verb forms, and verb tenses must match one another.

3. A “be” verb (am, is, are) can NEVER be followed by the base form of a “do” verb.

4. Non-action verbs cannot be used in progressive tenses.

5. The simple present tense is used in expressing

  • facts and truths
  • current routines

6. The present progressive tense is used in expressing

  • actions or situations at the moment of speaking
  • actions or situations at the present period of time

7. The present perfect tense is used in expressing

  • actions or situations that started in the past, continue till now, and may go on into the future
  • actions or situations that completed in an unspecified time in the past
  • actions and situations that repeated a certain number of times in the past and may happen again in the future

8. The present perfect progressive tense is used in expressing

  • actions or situations that started in the past, continue till now, and may go on into the future (with emphasis)
  • actions or situations that are ongoing

 

 

Media Attributions


  1. convey: verb, express, show
  2. inseparable: adjective, cannot be separated
  3. security: noun, safety
  4. guarantee: verb, promise, ensure
  5. Department of Treasury: noun phrase, a U.S. government agency to manage the financial system in the country
  6. sibling: noun, a brother or sister
  7. addictive: adjective, becoming a habit, cannot stop
  8. accumulate: verb, gather, collect
  9. illuminated magnifier: noun phrase, a tool that can light up and that is made of grass to make things look bigger
  10. fulfilling: adjective, satisfactory
  11. pursue: verb, follow with great interest
  12. sewage blockage: noun phrase, a problem where water cannot follow through the pipe because of something stuck in there

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