English tenses may be challenging to ESL learners because some learners may not have tenses in their own native language; for example, the Chinese language uses adverbs (e.g. "today," "yesterday," "tomorrow") to indicate the time element or sequence without changing the verbs (i.e. the tenses).
In English, the Present Tense is used when something is factual; that is, it is true all the time.
e.g. She is my daughter (a fact that is true all the time).
e.g. He likes hamburgers (a fact that is true as of now, though it may change in the future).
e.g. He used to like hamburgers (he liked hamburgers in the past, but he no longer likes them)
e.g. He liked hamburgers (a fact that was true in the past; the focus is not on the present).
The Present Continuous Tense is used to indicate that an action is going on or continuing at the present moment.
e.g. You are reading my blog page on the Present Tense and the Present Continuous Tense.
If you say "the actor is singing beautifully (the use of the Present Continuous Tense)," you are referring to "what the actor is doing right now -- singing beautifully." But you can also say "the actor sings beautifully" when you are referring not just to "what he is doing right now -- singing beautifully" but also to the fact that "the actor is always a good singer." See, you can use both the Present Tense and the Present Continuous Tense; it all depends on what you are referring to.
There is another use of the Present Continuous Tense: to indicate an action or event that will definitely take place very soon.
e.g. He is coming back soon (an event that is definite and will happen very soon).e.g. He will come (the Future Tense) back next week (a mere statement of a future event).
To sum up, you use the Present Tense for what is true or factual all the time, or at least for a certain period of time. Other than that, it is more appropriate to use the Present Continuous Tense for a present event or an action that will happen soon.
To learn more tenses in greater detail, go to Effective Writing Made Simple.
Copyright© by Stephen Lau