(aka the present continuous)
In this BECC Academy Business English + Cultural Self-Awareness mini-lesson you will learn how to use the present continuous tense (“to be” + –ing) to describe:
- Things that are happening at the time you are speaking or writing: I’m checking my email right now.
- Temporary situations: She’s working from home this week.
- Activities that are in progress: Everyone in the marketing team is studying English.
Using the present continuous correctly will help you to prevent misunderstandings around time in emails, reports, presentations, sales calls, meetings, negotiations . . . and all other aspects of business!
5 ways to use the present continuous (correctly)
Positive sentences: subject + am/is/are + verb-ing
I am sending the sales report now.
Negative sentences: subject + am/is/are + not + verb-ing
My computer isn’t (is not) connecting to the server at the moment.
Mixed positive and negative sentences: Use the positive form for the positive clause and the negative form for the negative clause.
I’m (I am) calling his mobile but he isn’t (is not) answering.
Positive questions: question word + am/is/are + [noun/noun phrase/pronoun] + verb-ing
When is the videographer arriving?
How is your new job going?
Negative questions: positive form + not
Why aren’t we meeting in the usual room?
Why are we not meeting in the usual room?
(Note: the second version puts more emphasis on not: use this form to express moderate criticism.)
Future arrangements: positive or negative form + future time phrase
They’re installing the new software next week.
Why are they installing the new software next week?
We’re not / We aren’t having a sales conference this year.
Why aren’t we having a sales conference this year?
Why are we not having a sales conference this year? (Use this form to express moderate criticism.)
Time and cultural self-awareness
As we explained in the last lesson, people from different cultures can have very different attitudes towards time.
To learn about your own cultural attitude towards time, answer the following two questions.
- When you have an agreement to meet someone from your own culture at a certain time, do you expect them to arrive before the stated time, exactly at the stated time, or after the stated time?
- What to you is a late arrival? e.g. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 1 hour?
Your answers to those questions show you one of your fundamental attitudes towards time.
If the person you’re meeting doesn’t arrive when you expect them to, this will likely trigger an automatic reaction in you; for example, frustration, impatience — you might even feel insulted.
However, if that person is from a different culture, it is likely that the time at which they arrive is perfectly acceptable in their culture. In other words, you should not take their behaviour personally. It is simply a cultural difference.
If your culture considers time to be something valuable (e.g. “time is money”), use this knowledge to help you recognize and control your automatic reaction when your colleague or client from a different culture doesn’t arrive “on time” or doesn’t reply to your email “in a timely manner”.
If you are from a culture that has a more relaxed attitude towards time, use this knowledge to understand why a colleague or client from a different culture is impatient or frustrated or even angry that you have arrived “late” or not replied to their email “in a timely manner”.
Concepts such as “late” and “timely” are subjective and profoundly influenced by culture.
One way to deal with this is to clearly state your expectations around time. Stating specific expectations about time helps to prevent misunderstandings. Preventing misunderstandings helps you to create good working relationships.
Use the expressions in this mini-lesson to help prevent misunderstandings around time.
Remember that in cross-cultural situations, the other person’s behavior is almost always not personal … it’s cultural.
Have you had problems with using or understanding the present continuous? Do -ing words cause you problems?
We want to answer all of your questions about business English.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS. If you’ve experienced a culture clash, tell us about that too!
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