Variations on Verb Tenses

Consider the following:

  • I live in a community that values education.
  • I am living in a community that values education.

These sentences are functionally equivalent. Their meanings are exactly the same. The only difference is that “am living” draws attention to the use of the present tense, via the progressiveness of “am” and “living”. In other words, “I am living” has a bit of added emphasis.

When to use one or the other:

In casual or informal settings, as in conversations or email exchanges, there typically is no reason to favor one of these constructions over the other. However, in formal written documents, I prefer the simple present (“I live”) over the present progressive (“am living”), simply because the former is more concise.

If it is necessary to note that something is in progress, use the present progressive. For example, if a colleague asks whether your presentation is ready, the most grammatically correct response would be, “I am working on it” (versus, “I work on it”). This implies that you are working on the paper and will finish it at some point.

If you want to emphasize that an activity is not only presently ongoing but was ongoing in the past, use the present perfect progressive – “has been”, “have been”. For instance, “I have been living in a community that values education” emphasizes the fact that the subject of the sentence has lived for an ongoing period in a community that thinks of education as important; “have been living” draws attention to the continuous nature of the residence, suggesting that it is significant. Such a sentence might be followed by, “Therefore, I know the importance of neighborhood involvement in educational affairs.” Here, it becomes obvious that because the subject has lived in a community that values education for some ongoing period, she is able to understand the importance of neighborhood involvement in educational affairs. Her ongoing residence in the community is directly relevant to this understanding.

Note that both of the foregoing sentences – “I have been living in a community that values education” and “Therefore, I know the importance of neighborhood involvement in educational affairs” – could be expressed in a single sentence:

  • Having lived in a community that values education, I know the importance of neighborhood involvement in educational affairs.

Be aware, however, that because this sentence does not use the present (“I live”), present progressive (“I am living”), or present perfect progressive (“I have been living”) tenses, it is unclear whether the subject’s residence in the community is presently ongoing or was ongoing for some period in the past. The speaker could be referring to a bygone time during which she lived in a community that valued education. Note that, in this context, the use of “values”, versus “valued”, makes no difference to whether the subject’s living in the community is or was ongoing. This is because it is possible that the subject lived and moved away from somewhere that continues to value education – making “values” appropriate. However, in this scenario, “valued” would also be appropriate, as the past tense wouldn’t signal that the community no longer values education; it would merely signal more clearly that the speaker no longer lives there.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply