Les temps présents: lequel choisir?

Le français a un seul temps présent. L’anglais en a trois. La conjugaison est plus simple qu’en français, mais parfois on hésite devant le choix de temps.

Skill: Grammar   Theme: Present tenses
Level: Elementary (A1-A2)

L’astuce

En règle générale, quand je parle d’une routine, ou d’une activité régulière, ou quelque chose qui est toujours vrai, j’utilise le présent simple.

Quand je parle d’une activité en cours au moment où je parle, j’utilise le présent continu.

(Le troisième temps présent, le présent parfait fera l’objet d’un article à lui tout seul.  Ce temps n’est pas employé pour les deux cas de figure cités ci-dessus.)

Contexte 1: ma routine journalière ou hébdomadaire

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
8:00AM Start work
10:00AM Check E-mails
12:00PM Lunch with Carol
2:00PM Department meeting
4:00PM Post Office

Quand je parle de mes activités régulières, j’utilise le présent simple:

Every Monday I start work at 8 o’clock.

I often check my E-mails at 10 o’clock.

On Wednesdays I meet Carol for lunch.

We have our department meeting at 2 o’clock on Thursdays.

I usually go to the Post Office at 4 o’clock.

La conjugaison du présent simple n’est pas compliquée, mais il ne faut pas oublier que pour les verbes réguliers, la forme de la troisième personne change (he/she/it) : He starts work, She checks her E-mail, He meets Carol etc.

Des expressions de temps qui s’emploient souvent avec le présent simple:

every day, on Tuesdays, in July, usually, often, sometimes, never, regularly…

Pratique

Utiliser ce formulaire pour prendre des notes sur vos activités journalières et hébdomadaires.  Ecrire une phrase pour chaque activité en utilisant le présent simple.

Contexte 2: mes projets actuels

Quand je parle de ce que je fais en ce moment, j’utilise le présent continu.

Le présent continu se construit avec un auxiliaire (une forme du verbe BE) + le verbe suivi de -ing.

I am writing an article.

You are interrupting me.

She is meeting her accountant.

We are renovating our office.

They are discussing a new product.

Des expressions de temps qui s’emploient souvent avec le présent continu:

at the moment, this month, today, currently, right now…

Pratique

Quels sont vos projets actuels?  Qu’est-ce que vous faites au travail qui n’est pas habituel?  Ecrire 5 phrases en utilisant le présent continu.

Faute typique: on n’utilise jamais le présent simple pour parler d’une activité qui est en cours au moment où on parle.  Par exemple, At the moment I *write am writing a proposal.  

Ces deux temps présents sont utilisés également pour parler du futurCette utilisation fera l’objet d’un autre article.

Photo Credit: candrews cc

English verbs that are often confused

There are a lot of English verbs that look or sound alike but have very different meanings.   Take, for example, the verbs pour and pore.  The pronunciation is identical, the spelling similar.  One of the three sentences following contains an error.  Do you know which one it is?

  1. Shake the sauce vigorously to mix it, then pour over the salad just before serving.
  2. We spent a long time poring over the map to try and work out the shortest route.
  3. As the accountant poured over the financial data he realised the company was in serious trouble.

Did you get it?  Yes it was the last one.  « Pour » means to flow or cause to flow; « pore » means to study closely, like the man in the picture above who is poring over some documents.

We call these word pairs homophones: words that have the same pronunciation, but with different spelling, and with a different meaning.  It’s easy to get them confused and most electronic spellcheckers aren’t much help in this type of situation: they can tell you if a word has been spelled wrongly but they can’t generally identify the misuse of a correctly spelled word.

Check your knowledge of  easily confused English verbs

Here’s a quick quiz on pairs of similar English verbs that are regularly confused.  Note that they are not all exact homophones.  In some cases there is a small difference in pronunciation.

You can check the word pairs with distinct pronunciation here:

lose / loose

raise / rise

Do you have any questions about homophones?  Are there other verbs that you are confused about?  Leave a comment below.

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photo credit: stevegarfield cc

How to get to grips with the verb « get »

swiss-knifeI seem to have had a lot of questions lately about the very versatile verb get.  It is one of the 100 commonest words in the English language, and one of the top 20 verbs.  It has very diverse meanings, and is used in a variety of ways.  Specialists will say that it is not usually good form to use get in writing, but it’s so useful that it is difficult to avoid.

Here is a summary of the main ways we use get.

1. Get + noun/pronoun

When get is followed by a noun or pronoun, it usually means something like receive, fetch, obtain, or catch…

I got a postcard from Darren yesterday.

Did you get some flour when you went to the supermarket?

Wrap up warmly so you don’t get a cold.

2. Get + adjective

When get is followed by an adjective, it usually means become…

I can’t climb those stairs so quickly these days – I must be getting old.

Turn that radiator on so you can get warm .

3. Get + preposition

When get is followed by a preposition, usually some kind of change or movement is implied…

What time do you usually get up in the morning?

Why don’t you get out of the house and get some fresh air?

4. Get + past participle

A. Get is often used for expressions where other European languages use reflexive verbs.  We use this to talk about something we do to ourselves:

get dressed
get lost
get engaged
get married
get divorced
get confused

B. Get can also replace be in passive structures such as…

The thief got caught when he used a stolen credit card (= was caught).

I got invited to Terry’s wedding (= was invited).

C. When there is an object before the past participle it can mean to finish doing something…

It has been so humid lately that it takes days to get the washing dried.

Get your room tidied and we’ll go to the park.

D. We can use the same structure (get + object + past participle) to talk about arranging for something to be done by somebody else.

I must get my hair cut – it’s looking terrible.

Peter has gone to the garage to ask about getting the car fixed.

5. Other uses:

get + -ing usually has the meaning to start doing something:

You should get going otherwise you’ll miss your train. ( = you should leave now)

get + to + infinitive often has the meaning to persuade:

I can’t get my husband to agree on the colour of the carpet.

This little list doesn’t cover every use of get, but it’s enough to get you started.  If you get stuck you could always get yourself a dictionary.  Don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult to understand all the uses of get.  It gets easier as you get used to the language.  So, why don’t you get on with it?

English has no future

future… « tense », that is.

Twice this week I have heard the comment from an English learner: « I find the future tense in English so complicated! »  As usual a look of bewilderment follows when I explain that there is no future tense in English.

What?  But we talk about the future all the time – how is that possible if there is no tense for it?  Well, we get around it by using one of several standard ways of speaking about future events, each one with its own particular meaning.

1. WILLDo you think John will visit us this summer?

2.  GOING TOI’m going to resign from my job.

3. PRESENT CONTINUOUSManchester United are playing at Wembley tonight.

4. SIMPLE PRESENTMy flight leaves at 7.00 tonight.

With so much variety, which one should I choose?  If you remember these simple principles, you will choose the right one most of the time.

For predicting – talking about what I think will happen in the future, without any reference to the present, we use will or going to, but not the present continuous.  I can say:

I think the price of fuel will fall / is going to fall next year,

but I can’t say *I think the price of fuel is falling next year.

When we talk about future plans – things that have already been decided, we use going to or present continuous, but not ‘will’.  I can say:

Where are Steve and Barbara going to spend / spending their holidays?

But I can’t say *Where will Steve and Barbara spend their holidays?

When we talk about a future action at the moment when we decide to do it, we use will.  I can say

It’s getting late.  I think we‘ll go home,

but I can’t say *It’s getting late.  I think I’m going / going to go home.

When we have present evidence that something is going to happen (that is, we can see it coming) we use going to:

Slow down! We‘re going to hit that car!

I can’t say *Slow down! We will hit / we’re hitting that car.

When we talk about future events that are already on a programme, such as a timetable, we can use simple present:

What time does the next train leave for Wellington?

This little summary doesn’t say everything there is to say about the future, as there are some other forms that we can also use:

5. WILL BE + INGFred will be having dinner with us tomorrow.

6. TO BE TOThe President is to visit Florida later this month.

7. WILL HAVE + past participle (future perfect)The workmen will have replaced all the windows by next Tuesday.

These three will be the subject of another post.
Practice Makes Perfect: English Verbs
Idiomatic English: A Workbook for Mastering Verb Phrases
English Phrasal Verbs in Use: Advanced