The Simple Present Tense Simplified

The simple present tense is the first one that you will learn when starting to learn English. It isn’t the hardest tense in the English language, but it can still be confusing. I hope to help you get rid of that confusion.

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When to Use the Simple Present Tense

The simple present tense, which is also sometimes just called the present tense, is used on very specific occasions. These are:

  • Habits (Jane eats breakfast every day.)
  • General truths (Fish live in water.)
  • Unchanging situations (I live in Berlin.)
  • Giving instructions (Turn left after 100m.)
  • Fixed arrangements. (The train leaves at 9:05.)

Words That Tell You to Use the Simple Present

  • always
  • usually
  • seldom
  • never
  • hardly ever
  • frequently
  • often
  • every day, week, month or year
  • sometimes

First, Second and Third Person

In language, things can be described from three points of view: first, second and third person. All of these can either be singular or plural. Take a look at this chart with the personal pronouns for each of these:

Personal Pronouns: First, Second and Third Person
First person singular: I
First person plural: we
Second person singular and plural: you
Third person singular: he, she, it
Third person plural: they

Knowing this is important because verbs change based on this. This is called verb conjugation. In this post I’ll quickly explain how it works in the present tense.

Conjugation in the Simple Present Tense in a Nut Shell

The only time that a verb changes in the simple present tense is when it is used with a third person singular noun. Imagine that that is the only person that is scared. Thus, they need the protection of a snake.

Image of a snake.

In the case of conjugation, this snake is an “-s” at the end of the verbs.

Now that you have this basic rule, let’s continue…

The Verb “To Be”

This verb is the one that you will encounter most often. It is an irregular verb, which means that we cannot predict how it’s conjugation should be. Here is a chart of how “to be” is conjugated:

Conjugation of "to be" in the Simple present tense:
I am
You are
He is
She is
It is
We are
You are
They are

You’ll notice that only “I” and “he, she, it” take a form of “to be” that is not “are”. That is how I remember these changes easily, by learning the ones that are different and then knowing that everything else is the same; in this case everything else is “are”.

“To Be” With Singular Nouns

When the verb “to be” is combined with singular nouns, the recipe for the sentence is as follows:

SINGULAR NOUN + IS/AM/ARE + SINGULAR NOUN

Instead of a noun after “to be” we can also use an adjective or location:

SINGULAR NOUN + IS/AM/ARE + ADJECTIVE/LOCATION

Remember, you choose which of am/is/are to use based on the table above.

For example:

I am here.

You are a person.

A dog is an animal.

A” and “an” have the same meaning.

An” is used in front of words starting with a vowel sound (vowels are: a, e, i, o, u).

A” is used in front of words starting with a consonant sound (consonants are all the other letters of the alphabet). 

Note that an inanimate object (when in singular form), for example, is treated as it.

A book is an inanimate object.

“To Be” With Plural Nouns

When the verb “to be” is combined with plural nouns, the recipe for the sentence is as follows:

PLURAL NOUN + ARE + PLURAL NOUN

Like with singular nouns, we can use an adjective or location after “to be”:

PLURAL NOUN + ARE + ADJECTIVE/LOCATION

For example:

We are hungry.

You are pretty.

Dogs are animals.

Verbs That are not “To Be”

In English, the verb “to be” is used different than other verbs in many cases. However, the basic sentence structure is the same. Here is how the other verbs are conjugated:

Conjugation of verbs not "to be" in the simple present tense: End of verb -sh,-ch, -ss, -x: add -es End of verb consonant + y: y changes to i and you add -es End of verb vowel + y: add -s Any other ending: add -s Note that there is no change in verbs used with the first and second person singular nouns nor in verbs used with a plural noun

Here are some examples in sentences. First lets use verbs that only gets an -s at the end when used with a third person singular noun:

I talk on the phone.

Ann talks on the phone.

We stay at home on weekends.

He stays at home when he is ill.

In the following example an “-es” is added:

They brush their teeth when they wake up.

She brushes her teeth when she wakes up.

Lastly, here is an example of when a verb ends on a consonant followed by a “y”:

Birds fly.

This bird flies.

Verbs Conjugated Irregularly in the Present Tense

Other than “to be” there are a few other verbs that are conjugated irregularly.

Using “Have” and “Has” in the Present Tense

We use “has” and “have” to indicate possession. “Has” is used with the third person singular and “have” with all the rest. Here are examples of their use:

He has a green book.

I have a green book.

They have green books.

Conjugating “Goes” and “Go”

Like with all other verbs in English, the only change in conjugation in the simple present tense is with the third person singular. It is also the version of the verb that has an “-s” at the end that is used with that person.

So, for example, if you see “goes” and “go”, which will be used with the third person singular? That is right, “goes” will.

Take a look at this example:

Sue and Ann go to school every day.

John goes to school every day.

How to Conjugate “Does” and “Do”

“Do” and “does” works the same as the above verbs. Here are some examples:

I do my homework after school.

Ben does his homework after school.

The Negative in the Simple Present Tense

The Negative of “To Be”

The word ‘not’ makes a sentence negative. In the present tense when the main verb in the sentence is “to be”, the recipe for the sentence is as follows:

NOUN + TO BE + NOT + THE REST OF THE SENTENCE

I am not a student.

Tom is not a student.

Mary and Ann are not students.

You can contract “is not” and “are not” to “isn’t” and “aren’t“, but you cannot contract “am not“:

I am not a student.

Tom isn’t a teacher.

Mary and Ann aren’t teachers.

Verbs That are not “To Be” and the Negative

To form the negative with verbs that are not “to be”, use the following recipe:

SUBJECT + DO/DOES + NOT + MAIN VERB

I do not drink coffee.

We do not drink coffee.

She does not drink coffee.

You can also contract do not and does not to don’t and doesn’t.

He doesn’t drink coffee.

They don’t drink coffee.

Questions in the Present Tense

Yes or No Questions

“No” and “Yes” Questions With “To Be”

When asking questions using “to be”, we switch the verb and subject around:

BE +  PERSON + REST OF THE SENTENCE?

For example:

Is Ann at home?

Are the boys at home?

Verbs That are not “To Be” and “Yes” or “No” Questions

For “yes” or “no” questions with sentences in which the main verbs are not “to be”, use the following recipe:

DO/DOES + PERSON + MAIN VERB + OPTIONAL REST OF SENTENCE?

Does Mary eat breakfast every day?

Do you eat breakfast every day?

Questions With Question Words

When asking questions using question words, we use the same recipe as with “yes” or “no” questions and we add the question word to the start of the sentence. Here is a list of possible question words:

Question words in English:
Question word followed by use
How for a method
What for something of many
When for a time
Where for a place
Which for something of few
Who for a person
Whose to ask about possession
Why for a reason

Here is the recipe for questions with a question words in which the main verb is “to be”:

QUESTION WORD + DO/DOES + PERSON + MAIN VERB + + OPTIONAL REST OF SENTENCE?

When the main verb in the sentence is not “to be” and the questions start with question words, this is how the sentence should be formed:

QUESTION WORD + TO BE + PERSON + REST OF THE SENTENCE?

Here are a few examples of these questions:

Where is Ann?

When does the movie start?

Whose book is this?

Rules for Conjugation in the Simple Present Tense that are Confusing

When Nouns are Joined by “and”

Sometimes two nouns are joined by and, they are then seen as a plural noun:

Canada and China are countries.

Dogs and cats are animals.

“or”, “either … or” and “neither … nor”

When two nouns are joined by “or“, “either … or“, or by “neither … nor“, you look at the second subject to decide how to conjugate the verb.

In the following example “Frank” is the subject that stands first and “his sister” is the second subject. Because “sister” is singular, we use the form of the verb with an “-s”.

Frank or his sister usually brings a book.

The next sentence is almost the same as the previous one, but this time the second subject is no longer singular, but plural. This means that we will use the form of the verb without the “-s”:

Frank or his sisters usually bring a book.

“as well as”, “with”, “together with”, “like”, “unlike” and “including”

When two subjects are joined by “as well as”, “with”, “together with”, “like “, “unlike” or “including”, we look at the first subject to decide on the conjugation:

The dog, as well as the puppies listens to Ben.

The dogs, as well as the puppies listen to Ben.

Conclusion: Simple Present Tense in English

This tense is quite simple if you remember all of the tips that I give you in this post. I hope that I managed to help you a bit on this front.

xoxo,
Charlé

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