The Use of Time Markers in English Part II: Present Simple versus Present Continuous

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After taking a tour through the world of time markers for the past verb tenses- namely simple versus perfect, our next article looks at time markers in the present. And what more fun it is than to examine two different forms of the present verb tense, while looking at a typical commmodity one should neither live without nor leave Germany without it- pottery! When one looks at pottery, three main features come to mind, which we will look at in our exercises: Different types of clay and rock used for pottery, Pottery markets (in German: Töpfermarkt), and Polterabend-a rare, textbook style event that occurs before an important event in the lives of a loving couple. 🙂

The Files created a quiz based on this topic, which you can try. Click here.

Before we look at time markers however, let’s have a look at the difference between present simple and present continuous and which time markers belong to which verb tense.

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Present simple is a verb tense that deal with things that are done on a regular basis. In other words, no matter how it is treated- as a statement, a schedule, a habit or a future form, the key word to describe present simple verbs is routine. Here are some examples:

The pottery markets in Thuringia take place between July and September. 

Here, the phrasal verb take place, and in particular, take, is the present simple term describing when the markets take place in many cities in Thuringia. It is written in future tense based on an annual schedule.

The pottery market in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is considered, by many in the industry, the largest market in Germany. 

Written in passive voice as a statement, the present simple form is consider because many dealers and pottery-makers believe that the market is Germany’s largest.

Apart from its use to make a statement and focus on schedules that are routine or etched in stone, the present simple tense can be used for headlines in newspapers but also for sports commentaries when an event just occurred, such as:

He shoots! He scores!!! And the ball game is over!!!!

Check out this excerpt below, when Michigan was upended by Michigan State in American college football, with only a few seconds left in the game in 2015. Can you identify the sentences in the clip?

BTW: Michigan State won 27-23, despite losing their hero, Jalen Watts-Jackson to a season-ending hip injury on that heroic return to save the team from its first losing game of the season.

The sentence construction of present simple is easy:

subject+ verb+ object?- Statement

To do+ subject+ verb+ object?-  Question with yes/no

Wh+ to do+ subject+ verb?- Questions with Wh

Interestingly enough, this form of present simple is closely related to the perfect form in this context, as the latter also functions for events occurring just now as well as for events that occurred but without a given date of when it started.

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Present continuous has several functions but they all follow the grammatical construction:

 to be+ (verb+ -ing).- Statement

to be+ subject+ (verb+ -ing) + object? – Question with Yes/No

Wh+ to be + subject+ (verb+ -ing)? Question with Wh

The verb tense is used for an event that is occurring either instantly or at the present time despite the length of the time frame. Here are a couple examples:

Mary: What is he doing?

Jon: He is putting wood chips into the kiln.

Mary: But isn’t it hot enough as is?

Jon: He needs more heat as he’s burning our ceramic pot. 

To sum up the conversation, the first deals with what the potter is doing right now, the second is the process of heating up the kiln with wood, and the last sentence has to do with what he is about to do. Also keep in mind the question forms that Mary uses and the difference between the two in terms of construction and how they are answered. The first is a W-question, explaining what the person is doing. The second is a question requiring a yes/ no answer, which Jon indirectly answers no in the last sentence.

Present continuous also functions as a future tense, yet that section is to be discussed further in Part III. Present continuous also focuses on the development and progress of a project a person is involved with or an event in a person’s life which he is going through stages from point A to point B. Take for instance this example:

Several football players are recovering from their season-ending injuries and are becoming more active.

In reference to the Michigan State football team, apart from Watts-Jackson, several key players, who suffered from season-ending injuries during the 2015 football season, are progressing in their recovery efforts that they are in shape and ready for the 2016 football season. This one is true as you can see in the article here.

TIME MARKERS:

While we see a difference in the way present simple and present continuous function, the key factor that makes the two verb tenses different is the usage of time markers. While the prepositional phrases of at, in and on in the sense of time are the same, and both sets feature mostly adverbial phrases, the difference between the two sets of time markers have to do with the frequency (which is found in present simple) versus those dealing with time frames and anything that has to do with instant progress. In other words, most of the time markers deal with frequency versus progress.

For the time markers in present simple, we have the following we use most often:

always, mostly, mainly, often, never, sometime, occasionally, (un-)usually, normally, traditionally, frequently, seldom, rarely, hardly (ever), certain days, weeks,, months and years, each/every (day, week, month, year,….), daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, annually, bi-annually, regularly, and the numerical frequency (once, twice, three times, etc.)

For present continuous, we mainly see the following time markers:

(right) now, currently, at the moment, momentarily, these days, nowadays, at present/ at the present time/ presently, today, this (week, month, year), in this era/period….

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Activity 1: Identify the time marker in the following ten sentences and determine whether they are present simple or present continuous:

  1. Helen and Martin are planning their Polterabend event at this moment.
  2. Polterabend always takes place the night before the wedding.
  3. Traditionally, friends, neighbors and some relatives come to their place, eat food and drink a good beer.
  4. They often bring old ceramic plates, pots and statues to break, whose shards bring good luck.
  5. These days, Polterabend is not as popular as they were 40 years ago.
  6. Even Martin rarely knows people in his circle of friends who have celebrated Polterabend.
  7. Right now, Helen and her family are planning the event because it is strong in their family tradition.
  8. At the moment, they are inviting all of her friends and relatives, but Martin has a better idea.
  9. Martin is currently planning a Bachelor’s party, which is not typical of German wedding traditions.
  10. But Martin is never a traditionalist. He always loves events that are non-conventional.

Activity 2: Complete each sentence using the correct verb tense. Please pay attention to the time markers and note that some of them have to be constructed in passive voice as indicated)

  1. Pottery markets ___________ (hold- passive) annually in the eastern half of Germany.
  2. In the past, only a handful of cities in Germany hosted these markets, nowadays dozens of cities ___________ (sell) pottery at these markets
  3. Usually, ceramics ___________(make-passive) with limestone and sandstone clay.
  4. Hardly anyone ____________ (produce) pottery with quartzite.
  5. Currently, ceramic glasses ___________ (buy-passive) by many people.
  6. While kilns ___________(use- passive) traditionally, these days, potters ________(heat) their ceramics with furnaces.
  7. We _________ (visit) the ceramic market in Bürgel today.
  8. Tens of thousands __________ (attend) the Bürgel market east of Jena annually.
  9. People always ____________ (color) their pots with navy blue with beige dots.
  10. At the moment, I __________(look) for a gift for my grandma for her collection.

Activity 3: Correct the following sentences. Each one has one error.

  1. Right now, the Michigan State football team always prepare for their upcoming football season.
  2. Despite a rough season in 2015, each and every player are rarely shaping up to face some tough teams.
  3. Each week they are practicing on the football field from dawn to dusk.  (Hint: they always do)
  4. Presently they shop for ceramics for their girlfriends. They always are ordering from Meissen Ceramics. (Hint: Think Christmas)
  5. They usually are getting their pep talk from their coach, but today they date their girlfriends and book their post-Bowl game flights to Europe.

Author’s Confession: OK, OK, so not all of the activities deal with ceramics and German traditions, but I bet some Michigan State football players are eyeing for some pottery, even if they go through the exercise and a dose of tradition that is outside their football stadium in East Lansing. 😉  In either case, the purpose of this section is to give you a brief description of the difference between present simple and present continuous through the use of time markers. This is important because some of the time markers and the functions of the two verb tenses apply for the future time form, which is a bit more complicated than what has been taught so far.

If you are still not convinced, you can check out another article written about the Christmas markets in Germany. There you have additional activities you can use to better understand present continuous and how it is different from present simple. This includes a quiz and a group project, all in connection with a German past time. Click here for details. 🙂

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