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How do the tenses in English correspond temporally to one another?
Differences between ways to express future actions

Does the below sentence indicate future tense or present continuous:

I am going to school now.

Has the action started and the speaker is on his way to school or has the action not started yet but is going to start right after the speaker finishes his statement?

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marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, Andrew Leach, Roaring Fish, tchrist, RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 12:29

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"I am going to school" is present tense. "I am going to go to school" would (be one way to) express future action. You might be interested in our proposed sister site specifically for English language learners. You can support it by committing. Thank you. –  RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 10:08
    
"I am going to school now" always means that the speaker is in the action of going to school, even if he's only just about to get up out of his chair in order to get his coat on to start the walk. –  Andrew Leach Jan 11 '13 at 10:10
    
That diagram is pretty nifty (and yes, now I know of that answer, I'd vote to close as duplicate if I had the rep required). –  Jon Hanna Jan 11 '13 at 10:25
    
Sentences such as 'My sister is going to France on Thursday' are often heard - the temporal adverbial indicates whether the statement indicates present or future action. Tense alone is often a poor indicator of the temporal setting. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 11 '13 at 10:49
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@FumbleFingers "I am going to school now" (as in the quote) does, though. The actual "tense" of the verb, which I am learning to put in quotes, is indicated by the use of now, tomorrow, later on, next Thursday, as of last September. –  Andrew Leach Jan 11 '13 at 11:57
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2 Answers 2

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The example shows the present progressive construction, of which one use is to describe an event taking place at the time of speaking, as in, for example, I’m eating my dinner now.

I am going to school now is unlikely to be used in that way. Another use of the construction is to express the future, and that is what it seems to be doing here. Your interpretation that the speaker is leaving for school fairly soon after finishing speaking is probably the correct one.

An alternative is to understand the statement as being said by a small child, proud to be old enough to go to school, not just at the time of speaking, but in general. That meaning, however, is more typically expressed by the present tense, as I go to school now.

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So what if I want to convey the meaning that event or the "going" is taking place at the time of speaking? Is it "I'm on my way to school now."? –  Bright Polyglot Jan 11 '13 at 14:22
    
@Bright Polyglot. Yes, if you were talking on a mobile phone, for example. –  Barrie England Jan 11 '13 at 14:46
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It's present tense, and generally means it is happening right now. The act of going to school is happening at the time the statement is made.

This doesn't mean it doesn't refer to the future though. The present tense is often used to describe events in the immediate near-future (so you might say "I am going" even though you won't literally be going for another few minutes), or for scheduled events in the future ("the train leaves at 6" is as valid as "the train will leave at 6").

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That means it can also refer to future tense even though the adverb/time expression "now" is used in the sentence? –  Bright Polyglot Jan 11 '13 at 10:45
    
Normally the addition of "now" would be to clarify that the present tense phrase does mean the temporal present, though it could be used as an exaggeration (so soon in the future that the speaker is claiming it's practically the present). That might be seen as a bit dishonest though. The answer to the question that Matt Эллен linked to in the comment above answers this - and the more general question of how tense relates to time - better than I have here. –  Jon Hanna Jan 11 '13 at 10:50
    
Special thanks to all of you. –  Bright Polyglot Jan 11 '13 at 11:13
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