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Which Tense is Best for Describing Habits?

All tenses are useful in different ways but the present tenses are very useful for describing habits!

In fact, both present simple and continuous can be used in this way, but the result can have different meanings. In this blog, we’ll compare some examples for talking about habits, including adverbs of frequency like always and sometimes.

Let’s see how the meaning changes when we change the tense.

Habits are things we do regularly, and they can be good, bad or just routines. “I go to bed early most nights” shows that I have a good habit or routine of going to bed early. If it were the opposite - a bad habit - what would the sentence look like?

“I’m always going to bed late.”

Note that when we use the adverb always in this statement, it does not mean every time, it just means more frequently than normal. The interesting thing about using always with the present continuous is that it changes a general fact into a more negative habit.

For example, “I work out in the evenings.” (general fact) becomes “I’m always working out.” (maybe I work out too much.)

Look at the following examples and decide whether the statements in the present simple tense appear more positive than in the present continuous.

My mother borrows my clothes /My mother is always borrowing my clothes.

He leaves the house late / He’s always leaving the house late!

They talk about themselves / They’re always talking about themselves.

Do you see that there is a slightly different meaning in the present continuous examples?

So we have learned that the present continuous can be used to describe (annoying) habits. We will now look at the present simple using the following adverbs of frequency – sometimes, often and rarely.

We often cook on weeknights. (The adverb comes before the verb.)

Why can’t we say “We are often cooking on weeknights”? Even though this is a regular habit, the present continuous can’t be used with the adverbs sometimes, often and rarely!

I rarely have time to sit down with a book.

I sometimes share my dinner with my dogs.

These examples describe habits that occur with different levels of frequency, so we have also learned that habits do not happen all the time!

Finally, let’s go back to the present continuous. We also use this tense to describe things that we are doing in general, even if they are not happening at this exact moment in time. In the next examples, the meaning is positive or neutral.

I’m getting better at English since I started an online course.

I’m eating much healthier food nowadays.

She’s training her dog to do tricks.

These are statements of ongoing events. We don’t know when the woman is training her dog, but we do know that it is a regular event, at the moment. We hope you've learned some new ways of using present tenses but what if you want more practice?

Explore this topic further by joining our B1 English Taster! The best part is that present tenses are just one of the things you will learn. There are also sections on vocabulary around the home and verb phrases for common actions. This is just one of 5 taster lessons covering A1 -C1 and they give you the chance to try English Voice for FREE!

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. As always, you will progress more by reading, listening and practising your English so make sure you check out IQ Global for free resources and our YouTube channel. See you next time!

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