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The Simple Present Tense

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  1. What is the simple present for?
  2. The [be] verb
  3. Verb agreement with -s
  4. Spelling for subject-verb agreement
  5. Negative (-) sentences with [do]
  6. Question (?) sentences with [do]  UPDATED! 
  7. Negative (-) and question (?) together
  8. Frequency adverbs

What is the simple present for?

The simple present tense is usually used in two main ways:

Habits

A "habit" is something that can happen once, or more or less often than that. Some examples are:

I know that is a lot to remember. Don't worry about it too much. Hearing English users don't remember all of the above categories, either. A general rule to help us all that if something happens in the present time and may or may not be happening right now, then we think of it in the simple present. For example, here are two photos of a famous NBA player, LeBron James:

(a) LeBron James playing in a NBA game
LeBron James plays pro basketball. You can see that he is in a NBA game, he is wearing his Miami Heat uniform, and he is dribbling a basketball.

(b) LeBron James in a nice suit for a cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine.
LeBron James plays pro basketball. I can use the same sentence I used in in (a). Even though LeBron James is not playing in a pro basketball game in the photo for (b), he is still a pro basketball player.

The second main use for the simple present is:

States

No, not U.S. states like Massachusetts and New York. :-) Another meaning for "state" is what or how something is by itself without doing an action. It usually uses the [be] verb (am, is, and are) but other verbs may be used too. A few examples are:

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The [be] verb

What many people don't realize about English is that it has an important rule: all sentences must have a verb.

(a) We go home. - This is a sentence.
(b) Go home. - This is a sentence.
(c) Go. - This is a sentence.
(d) We home. - This is not a sentence.

Now we usually think of verbs as actions. However, as you have read above, verbs can give the state of something. So for (d) above, we can use [be] as the verb of the sentence: We are home.

Here is a table for all [be] verbs.
SubjectSubject Examples[be] verbSentence Example
First-person singularIamI am happy.
Second-person singularyouareYou are smart.
Third-person singularhe, she, it, dog, BethisTom Brady is the Patriots quarterback.
First-person pluralwe, Beth and I areSeth and I are basketball players.
Second-person pluralyou, Beth and youareYou three are pretty cool.
Third-person pluralthey, dogs, Beth and Jill areThey are hard workers.

Note: am, is, and are can be shortened to 'm, 's, and 're for casual use. For example:

We are ready. We're ready.

The shortening is much more common for pronouns (he, I, it, she, they, we, you) than for regular nouns. You don't see them as often for nouns and names (for example: Molly's nice). It isn't wrong to use shortened [be] verbs with regular and proper nouns, but pronouns work better because they are easier for hearing people to say.

Section Review

Put the correct [be] verb in the sentences below.

  1. I _____ a student.  ANSWER 

  2. You _____ great girls.  ANSWER 

  3. You _____ not 8 feet tall.  ANSWER 

  4. My dog _____ very friendly.  ANSWER 

  5. The Celtics _____ a basketball team.  ANSWER 

  6. My brother and I _____ high school students.  ANSWER 

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Subject-verb agreement with -s

The simple present tense follows an English grammar rule called subject-verb agreement. What it means is that the verbs used in a sentence must match the subject of the sentence. Take a look at these two sentences:

(a) The boy plays football.
(b) The boys love football.

In (a) the s is added to the verb to make it agree with the subject. So how do we know when to add the s and when not to? One way would be to use the following table to help you remember:

SubjectSubject ExamplesAdd s?Sentence Example
First-person singularINoI like pie.
Second-person singularyouNoYou know my father.
Third-person singularhe, she, it, dog, BethYesMy cat sleeps.
First-person pluralwe, Beth and I NoWe study English.
Second-person pluralyou, Beth and youNoYou practice very hard.
Third-person pluralthey, dogs, Beth and Jill NoBooks make you smarter.

Orange toy snake As you can see in the table, only the third person singular needs the s added. If it is hard for you to remember, try to think of this story: Mr. Orange has a toy snake. He loves to scare people with it. You and I have seen that snake many, many times, so we are never scared when he shows it to us. Mr. Orange is very shy, so he never tries to scare two or more persons, animals, or things. However, if he sees one person, animal, or thing, he will be very brave and show that one his snake.

Section Review

Yes or No: Decide if each sentence need the s.

  1. She like to ride horses.  ANSWER 

  2. You practice grammar.  ANSWER 

  3. Dad drive a Corvette.  ANSWER 

  4. We go to the movies.  ANSWER 

  5. I eat pizza.  ANSWER 

  6. You all enjoy school trips.  ANSWER 

  7. Mr. Smith work at the bank.  ANSWER 

  8. An apple taste good.  ANSWER 

  9. My sisters hate football.  ANSWER 

  10. My brother dance every Friday.  ANSWER 

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Spelling for subject-verb agreement

English has many rules and it is not always so easy to add -s to the ending of the verbs. For example:

(a) Birds fly.
(b) The bird flies.

The different ways verbs have -s added to them depend on how they are normally spelled. This table should have all the spelling rules:

Ending of verbChange in spellingExample
-s, -o, -x, -ch, -sh-espush - pushes
not -s, -o, -x, -ch, -sh, and -y-sfind - finds
-ay, -ey, -iy, -oy, -uy-sbuy - buys
all other -yremove -y, -iesply - plies
Note: Have is spelled has.

Don't worry if you can't remember all the four rules above. The important thing to know is that they are rules and English spelling usually follows them. If you read a lot you will see simple present verbs being used again and again and that makes it easier to remember how to spell them. I do not remember the above rules, either. Having read English for 30 years, I can remember that play is spelled plays and fly is spelled flies.

Section Review

All the sentences in this review need subject-verb agreement. You also need to use the correct -s spelling for each sentence. Check the table above if you forget the spelling rules!

  1. Tom box at the gym Friday nights.  ANSWER 

  2. Sharon lay her book on the desk.  ANSWER 

  3. Dad shop at Target.  ANSWER 

  4. My shoes touch the floor.  ANSWER 

  5. Richard reply to e-mails at work.  ANSWER 

  6. Tanya spike the volleyball really hard.  ANSWER 

  7. She buy a new game each month.  ANSWER 

  8. Farmer Brown carry fruit to the market.  ANSWER 

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Negative (-) sentences with [do]

Note: In the RTS, only  not  is colored black. However, I have colored  [do]  black in this page since they are usually used together.

I teach Geometry.

No I don't! I teach English. How do I fix that sentence so that people will know that Geometry is not a class that I teach? I can use  [do] not .

I  do not  teach Geometry.

You may already know that do is a verb which means to perform an action or to make something happen. For example - Sally does her homework.  [do]  is different because it is put between the subject and verb to show if that verb really happens or not.

Most of the time  [do]  and  not  are combined to show that a sentence, without the  [do] , is not true. Some examples are:

The New England Patriots  do not  play in Yankee Stadium.
Girls  do not  use the boys' locker room.
Teachers  do not  like getting late homework.

Note: Don't forget that  do not  can be shortened to  don't . Also,  does not  can be shortened to  doesn't . The shortened  don't  and  doesn't  are used for casual situations - like if you are talking with friends, your family, or in class. Use the longer versions for more serious situations, such as when you are in a meeting, giving a big presentation, or writing a research paper.

Subject-verb agreement with [do]

All simple present sentences must have subject-verb agreement with -s, even if  [do] not  is used. See the wrong and right uses below:

Wrong: Carl  do not  eat red meat.
Also Wrong: Carl  do not  eats red meat.
Still Wrong: Carl  does not  eats red meat.
Right: Carl  does not  eat red meat.

Black dog holding a plush snake. As you can see, if  [do]  is in the sentence and you need to use -s, then  [do]  always gets the -s. If you remember Mr. Orange's toy snake above, remember this too: Mr. Orange has a DOg. He has only one toy snake. When his DOg is with him, Mr. Orange lets his DOg hold the snake and they scare people together. The rules are all the same - the only difference is that when DOg is with Mr. Orange, DOg holds the snake. So, -s is always with  [do]  to make  does  and the verb does not hold the snake.

Negative (-) sentences using [be]

 [do]  is never used with [be] verbs. You only need  not , and put it right after the [be] verb.To help you remember this better, in the RTS,  [do]  is the DOg and [be] is baby BEatrice White. DOg can be very loud and BEa needs her sleep, so they are kept apart.

Wrong: We  do not  are tired.
Also Wrong: We  not  are tired.
Right: We are  not  tired.

[do] used without not

Note: This section will not be covered in the Section Review. It is just extra information for you to know.

 [do]  can be written without  not , but the meaning is a little different. The  [do]  is used to show that a habit or state is indeed true and not false. Here's an example conversation between a basketball coach and a player who missed last night's practice:

COACH: Todd, last night was the 3rd time that you have missed practice. I think you  do not  want to play basketball.
TODD: Coach, I  do  love basketball. I have had too much homework recently. I'm sorry I missed practice.

In the above conversation, Todd added  do  to his sentence to show the coach that he really loves basketball, even if his coach thinks that he does not want to play basketball. However, be careful not to use  do  too much - it should be used only to show that the verb is really true. So if Todd normally loves basketball he would just say, "I love basketball."

Remember,  [do]  is never used with [be] verbs. So you would never write sentences like: My friend  do  is funny.

 Challenge!  Yes or No - Is the sentence below correct?

I  do  do my homework.  ANSWER 

Section Review

Change all sentences so they are negative (-). Remember all the rules you have reviewed in this section and use them below!

  1. You are nice.  ANSWER 

  2. Holly knows Spanish.  ANSWER 

  3. I am Justin Bieber.  ANSWER 

  4. You watch horror movies.  ANSWER 

  5. Lea's parrot flies.  ANSWER 

  6. The Great Wall is short.  ANSWER 

  7. We forget TextRich.com's address.  ANSWER 

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Question (?) sentences with [do]

We use  [do]  to make questions (?) with Yes/No answers. All you need to do is to put  [do]  in the very beginning of the sentence and change the period (.) to a queston mark (?) in the end. Here are two examples:

Statement: Horses run fast.
Question:  Do  horses run fast?

Statement: Roger plays baseball.
Question:  Does  Roger play baseball?
Not:  Does  Roger plays baseball?

In the second question,  Do  is changed to  Does  so it agrees with the subject (Roger). The subject-verb agreement rules are the same as above.  [do]  gets the -s, not the verb, so plays is changed to play. Try to think that simple present sentences can use only one -s, like Mr. Orange has only one toy snake.

Note: Some students find it strange to start question sentences with  Does . I can understand why. I personally have seen hearing people start questions with  Do  and add no -s to the verb. It is important to understand that even though most hearing people grow up hearing English 24/7, they are not always careful with rules and they do make mistakes. Don't worry if a sentence "doesn't sound right." English has many, many rules. The more you read, the better you will feel when you read and write new sentences.

Questions (?) with [be]

As explained above,  [do]  and [be] are not used together in sentences. So if the verb is [be], when you need to make a question just move that verb to the very beginning of the sentence. Here is an example:

Statement: Your mother is cool.
Question: Is your mother cool?

Just make sure the [be] matches the subject and you will be fine.

Section Note

Remember that questions with  [do]  have Yes/No answers.

Question:  Do  you like learning English?
Answer 1: Yes, I do.
or
Answer 2: No, I don't .

There are other questions that do not take Yes/No answers. Those questions usually start with Wh-words: what, when, where, who, why, and how. They are not covered in this chapter but the next time I teach a unit on them, I'll create a new chapter. :-)

Section Review

Change all sentences so they are questions (?). Remember all the rules you have reviewed in this section and use them below!

  1. Farrah goes to the gym.  ANSWER 

  2. Vegetables are good for you.  ANSWER 

  3. Mario is a Nintendo hero.  ANSWER 

  4. Tom and Bill eat pizza.  ANSWER 

  5. You study online every day.  ANSWER 

  6. I am a student.  ANSWER 

  7. That bear eats berries.  ANSWER 

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Negative (-) and question (?) together

You might see question sentences that also use  [do] not . Let us look at a statement (+), a negative (-), a question (?), and a negative/question (-?) sentence.

(+) You think that he is nice.
(-) You  do not  think that he is nice.
(?)  Do  you think that he is nice?
(-?)  Don't  you think that he is nice?
or
(-?)  Do  you  not  think that he is nice?

The last two sentences (both -?) are used by the writer/speaker to ask the reader/listener a question and the writer/speaker thinks that the reader/listener will, or should, say yes. So in the two (-?) sentences above, I think that he is nice and I think that you will think that he is nice too.

You still need to use the -s subject/agreement rule. Nothing has changed from the above section. The only thing different in this section is that you are adding  not  to the questions. For example:

(+) Cherrie likes music.
(-?) Doesn't  Cherrie like music?
or
(-?)  Does  Cherrie  not  like music?

As explained above, the  n't  contraction is used for casual conversations. Use the regular  not  for more important situations.

Negative (-) and question (?) together with [be]

You can make (-?) sentences with a [be] verb instead of a regular verb. The reason for making the (-?) sentence is the same as above. Here is an example:

(+) He is nice.
(-) He is  not  nice.
(?) Is he nice?
(-?) Isn't  he nice?
or
(-?) Is he  not  nice?

Note: amn't  is not allowed in the English language. You must use  not  with am.

Section Review

Change these statements (+) to negative/question (-?) sentences. Most statements have two correct answers.

  1. Terry is at work today.  ANSWER 

  2. Hanzo takes Chemistry.  ANSWER 

  3. We have $10,000.  ANSWER 

  4. The clowns are funny.  ANSWER 

  5. Our cousins live in Colorado.  ANSWER 

  6. My dog eats a lot.  ANSWER 

  7. I am good enough.  ANSWER 

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Frequency adverbs

We use frequency adverbs to show if we do or are something a lot, a little, some of the time, or never. They can change the meaning of sentences. For example, "I play XBox 360" doesn't really give you an idea of how much I play it. Now let's add frequency adverbs to that sentence

(a) I always play XBox 360.
(b) I never play XBox 360.

As you can see (a) makes it sound like I play XBox 360 for many hours every day. However, (b) makes it sound like I do not have a XBox 360 at home and I don't even play it at my friends' homes, either. One frequency adverb can change the meaning of a simple present sentence big time.

So how do we put frequency adverbs in sentences? You should put them after the subject and before the verb.

Right: Murray usually plays rugby.
Wrong: Murray plays often rugby.

Here is a table with many different frequency adverbs. All of them should be put between the subject and verb.

Frequency adverbHow often?Additional locations in sentences
always♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ (100%)
usually♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥beginning
generally, normally, regularly♥♥♥♥♥♥♥normally - beginning, regularly - ending
frequently, often♥♥♥♥♥♥frequently - beginning and ending, often - ending
sometimes♥♥♥♥♥beginning and ending
occasionally♥♥♥♥beginning and ending
infrequently, seldom♥♥♥infrequently - ending, seldom - beginning
rarely♥♥
hardly ever
never(0%)

As you can see in the table, some frequency adverbs can be used in the beginning and/or end of sentences. It is done to show that the frequency is a little more important than the verb itself. Here is an example:

Normal: I sometimes work at home.
Beginning: Sometimes I work at home.
and
Ending: I work at home sometimes. - These two sentences show that "sometimes" is more important than "work."

If you are not sure where to put frequency adverbs in a sentence, to be safe just put them between the subject and verb. With more practice (and by reading a lot more English) you will be more comfortable and can better decide if you want to put those adverbs someplace else.

Frequency adverbs with negative (-), question (-), and negative/question (-?) sentences

So far I have used only statements (+) in this section when talking about frequency adverbs. However, you can use them with any simple present forms - including negative (-), question (?), and the rarely-used (see what I did here?) negative/question (-?). You already know that frequency adverbs are usually put between the subject and verb. For all four kinds of sentences, you want to put the frequency adverb right after the subject or  not  - whichever is furthest right. Let us look at another set of sentences:

(+) Maggiealways goes out on Friday nights.
(-) Maggie  does not always go out on Friday nights.
(?)  Does  Maggiealways go out on Friday nights?
(-?)  Doesn't  Maggiealways go out on Friday nights?
or
(-?)  Does  Maggie not always go out on Friday nights?

As you can see, the always frequency adverb is put after either the subject or  not , whichever is last, in the above four sentences. The meanings also change.

Maggie always goes out on Friday nights. - Maggie goes out every Friday night.
Maggie  does not  always go out on Friday nights. - Maggie does not go out on all Friday nights. Some Friday nights (or all of them!), Maggie stays home instead.

Note: The frequency adverb never is not used with any sentence that uses  not . Both never and  not  are negative words, and English doesn't allow double negative sentences like "I  don't  want no candy."

Frequency adverbs when a [be] verb is used

If the verb in a sentence is a [be] verb, move the frequency adverb so it will be right after the [be] verb, not before it.

Wrong: She always is funny.
Right: She is always funny.

If negative (-), question (?), and negative/question (-?) sentences are used with a [be] verb, follow the same rules as the above section - put the frequency adverb right after the subject or  not , whichever is furthest right.

(+) She is always funny.
(-) She is  not always funny.
(?) Is shealways funny?
(-?) Isn't  shealways funny?
or
(-?) Is she  not always funny?

Spelling of "always" and "sometimes"

As an English teacher, I see two frequency adverbs misspelled a lot:

He alway goes to GameStop.
and
He sometime goes to GameStop.

Polar bear facepalming. Always is spelled always and sometimes is spelled sometimes. These words must have s in their endings. You have no choice.

Confused students.I know you were taught that "sentences must have 1 s." I have also said that to my students as a teacher, but some rules are just faster and easier to explain in ASL. The important thing to understand is that frequency adverbs are not verbs! They are adverbs. Adverbs never have their spelling changed for subject-verb agreement (no -s). Don't change their spelling - look at the subject and verb only to help you decide if you need to make them agree by adding a -s.

Another way to help you remember to spell always and sometimes correctly is to look in our friend, the dictionary.

-alway is an archaic spelling for always. "Archaic" means that the spelling is very old and we don't normally spell the word that way anymore.
-sometime is also an adverb (like sometimes), but it has a different meaning. It means "at an unknown time in the future." Here's an example sentence:
--We should go see a movie together sometime. [We should go see a movie together some time in the future. We have not seen a movie together yet.]
That is different from sometimes, which means "at certain times." Here's a similar example sentence:
--We go see a movie together sometimes. [We go see a movie together some times. Other times we don't.]

Shy woman giving two thumbs up. I hope all that explanation helps. If it doesn't, let me know! :-)

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©opyright 2017 by Richard Knopf
Updated April 19, 2015
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