Following situation occurs/ed. I meet a friend for a coffee. We chat and I ask him what he's doing for work now.

His answer: "I'm teaching English."

This irks me. Because in that situation he's not teaching right that moment, but rather he teaches English. So shouldn't his answer rather be "I teach English."?

English is not my mother tongue but I do think I'm fluent in it. I grew up bilingual.

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it should be asked on English Language Learners Apr 26, 2014 at 13:39
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    Except for the fact that I'm not a new user learning English as my second language. Even the native speakers have troubles and they come here to ask. Apr 26, 2014 at 14:20
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    If you think the progressive is ungrammatical in this context, why did you ask him what he is doing? Apr 26, 2014 at 15:24
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    Yes, the sites are perhaps misnamed. 'More basic' and 'more advanced' would perhaps fit better. Apr 26, 2014 at 15:25
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    In the archives of EL&U I have seen many many questions that were EXTREMELY basic, that received numerous upvotes and excellent answers. This is a simple question but lets not fool ourselves, native speakers aren't infallible, and the majority haven't a clue about grammar because they weren't taught it. At least this question was clear, well written and the OP explained his dilemma. A darn sight more than the majority of questions we have been receiving of late (end of rant).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 26, 2014 at 17:49

4 Answers 4


Q: What are you doing at the moment?

A: I'm teaching English at a language school.

Does this mean the person is teaching at the moment of speaking. No, it doesn't. We use the present continuous tense to talk about things that are in progress or for actions that are, for the time being, temporary in nature. The fact your friend replied using the present continuous means he does not consider teaching to be his permanent job, it is a stopover, something he is doing now, for a limited period. Of course, he could always change his mind and become a full-time fully fledged teacher, but his answer was grammatical and perfectly acceptable.


The present continuous is used in several instances.

  • To describe something which is happening at the exact moment of speech:
    The boy is crying.

  • To describe an action that is taking place now, but not at the exact moment of speech:
    He is working in Dubai.

  • To describe an event which is planned in the future:
    I'm resitting my French exam on Tuesday.

  • With always, but meaning often:
    My mother is always making me go to school!
    She is always playing with that doll!

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    @Mari-LouAI was tempted to downvote it myself because of this, " The fact your friend replied using the present continuous means he does not consider teaching to be his permanent job, it is a stopover, something he is doing now, for a limited period." I said almost the exact same sentence a few weeks ago because someone in the same district as me knew that I had left the school he was in. I simply changed schools; I have no intention of leaving that school or the profession: "I am teaching at X." That being said, you answered the question and did not deserve a downvote. Apr 26, 2014 at 13:41
  • Downvoter reversed vote (must've read the answer).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 26, 2014 at 13:56
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    That or I convinced him with gentle reasoning! Apr 26, 2014 at 14:01
  • Thanks for all the effort Mari-Lou. Much obliged. Even though I did know about present continuous, I'm neither a native speaker nor infallible and do forget. I'm after all human, and make mistakes too. Apr 26, 2014 at 18:38
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    Mmm ... It may imply that he thinks of his teaching as temporary, but that's at most an implicature, not an entailment - and me, I don't think it's even that absent some contextual support. I think it's just the ordinary response to the question asked: "Whatcha doing?" - "Teaching English." Apr 26, 2014 at 18:48

It depends on the circumstance.

If you are actually in a classroom, teaching an English class and a student asks:

"What are you doing right now?"

A correct response would be:

"I am teaching English."

The response describes your current activity.

If, however, the student asks:

"What is your occupation?"

The correct response would be:

"I teach English."

This response describes your occupation.

Two different questions, two different answers.

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    Mmm ... "I teach English" is a correct response, but so is "I am teaching English". Strictly speaking, the response most literally suited to the question "What is your occupation?" would be "[It is] English teacher." Apr 26, 2014 at 18:44
  • @StoneyB I agree that there are many "correct" correct responses to either question. Apr 26, 2014 at 18:50

It is the difference between present progressive and simple present.

"So what are you doing nowadays, Don?"

"I am teaching English."

You taught English yesterday, now, and tomorrow.

As to your annoyance:

Your understanding of the progressive tense is that you have to be doing the thing right that very second, but that would mean we would never say "am running" unless we are on the phone panting because we are running while talking.

As you can see, the posed question asked what his profession is and was, what he has been doing, so, at this very moment, and in the past, and in the future, he was, is, and will be a teacher of English.

"What do you do, Don?"

"I teach English."

Simple present--right now, I teach English.

As for "to teach", "to teach" is an infinitive that can act like a noun, adjective, or adverb.

"I plan to teach English." (Direct Object)

"To teach English is my goal." (Subject)

  • Well okay, that and the other answers cleared it up. I was aware of the different tenses and whatnot, it just didn't sit right with me. Thanks. Apr 26, 2014 at 14:24

Your friend answered "I am teachING English"simply because you asked "What are you doING." If you had asked "What DO you do now?" Your friend's answer would be "I TEACH English." Please remember your friend IS teaching English (at that time). That's how he teaches his students to answer questions.

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