Simple Or Progressive?

One of the most common mistakes with English in business is getting the present simple and the present progressive confused.

The present simple describes things which are true NOW, but also are often or regularly true or are facts.

The present progressive describes things that are the speaker is currently in the middle of doing (actions in progress)

Simple right?

Except it’s not really, is it?

The progressive form of the present tense is used to describe any action that you have started but not finished. So, while you are on your bike on the way to work, you are ‘cycling.’

BUT once you have started a book, you can also be said to be ‘reading’ the book, even when you are at work, doing something else. Why? Because the book has a start and an end, and you have started the action of reading it but are not yet finished.

In business, this distinction is even more important because of another difference between the two forms.

We use present SIMPLE to talk about things that we consider permanent.

We use present PROGRESSIVE to talk about things that are temporary.

Therefore, to say ‘I am working in London’ implies that this is not where you normally work every day, it is a temporary situation.

‘We are building websites’ implies that yes, you are busy doing that now, but that normally, you do something else.

By contrast

I work in London


We build websites

Have the sound and feel of hard, definite facts and as such are more likely to persuade someone who is listening that these things are true and that you can indeed do them because you do them all the time.

In modern work lives, our days are made up of many things that repeat, are regular or are habits. Therefore, it is very common to use the present simple. It is also important in business to speak with authority about what you or your business does. This means present simple is needed.


Taleninstituut Professional Tip:

To help you remember, ask yourself:

Do you want to describe ONE action that you have started but not finished? Progressive!


Do you want to describe an action that is regular, repeats or is a FACT? Simple!


© Taleninstituut Nederland


By: David Chislett

Senior Trainer Business English