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Walking and Thinking about the Present in English

Walking through Tompkins Square, I see red roses in the brisk air. I’ve been thinking about the present because that is what I am going to be talking about with my students this morning, and here it is, a blooming rose.

Although we call four tenses “present” in English, there are only two that really are: the simple present, a general truth:

I walk to class every morning.

And, if you called me on the phone and asked me what I was doing, I’d tell you in what some like to call the present progressive:

I’m looking at the roses.

Some might argue that the present perfect (I have walked to class a thousand times), and the present perfect progressive (I have been looking at roses the whole time I’ve been talking to you) are the present, but they are not the present, they are up to the present, they are the present with a past.

Five helping verbs help the present: do, does, am, are, and is.

When the teacher walks to class, the helping verb does is in the sentence, although we don’t see it because does is hiding behind the main verb, walk. Does isn’t completely hidden, however; we clearly see its letter s sticking out at the end of the base form, walk:

The teacher walks to class.

When we say no in English, the does always appears:

The teacher doesn’t walk to class.

Notice that the helping verb does takes on the negative, not the main verb, walk. Walk doesn’t do the work, does does.

When we ask a question in English, the does also appears as the first word in the sentence:

Does the teacher walk to class?

An affirmative sentence in the simple present does show does when we want to make a point:

“I don’t believe the teacher walks to class.”

“No, honestly, the teacher does walk to class.”

Usually the teacher just walks to class with the helping verb does hiding with its s sticking out behind the main verb walk like, as the grammarians like to say, the tail of a mouse.

The main verb walk has three principle parts: walk, walking and walked. The present uses two of these parts: walk and walking.

I’m approaching Houston Street. I’m going to have to concentrate while crossing this busy thoroughfare where the cars go every direction. So let me be here now and not think about the present—Ha! I just thought: Well, of course, the principle part walked can be used in the present if the sentence is passive:

That dog is walked by its owner.
Those dogs are being walked by a walker.

But let me focus on crossing Houston or I most certainly will be killed. There’s always another thought. And now I must hurry slowly. Have a good morning.




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