One of the things that is constantly confusing for English language learners, but comes with ease to native speakers, is when to use present continuous and when to use present simple.

Because of this, there are long lists of specific situations where students have to learn which tense is used for what.

For example, we use present simple for a re-occuring or habitual event "I walk home with Josh at 5:00pm" (implies this is a regular occurrence), whereas we use present continuous for a one off future planned event "I'm walking home with Josh at 5:00pm" (I'm doing that later today).

However, one thing that I keep seeing crop up in textbooks is the idea of "timetabled events". This is always left undefined, and is not really clear what it means. The typical example given is "the plane leaves at 3 tomorrow".

But honestly, I'm sure I'm just as likely to use the expression "the plane's leaving at 3 tomorrow."

Which tense to you think you would use, and should the use of the continuous here be viewed as "incorrect"?

  • 1
    It's a good question. However, what many learners consistently fail to understand is that English is a very context-dependent language. On the face of it those sentences, in isolation, have exactly the same meaning -- and indeed they may do so -- in isolation. However in the real world, sentences do not occur in isolation. Perhaps you could give some scenarios and then we can judge which is best for each. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 19:37
  • Are there languages that aren't context dependent?
    – deadrat
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 19:48
  • 2
    @deadrat no, but chasly does make a good point that English, more that many other languages, often depends heavily on context rather than syntax for meaning, due to its more lax/fluid/whatever you want to call it grammar. Many romance languages have much more rigidly defined syntactical structures for past/future time continuous/one off events than English does for example. Of course English is by no means unique in this regard, or the most extreme example. But I feel we are disgressing/we digress.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 19:51
  • @chasly How about the example I did give? I can't think of an example of a "timetabled event" phrase that seems to require the present simple that isn't covered by the earlier requirement of a "re-occuring or habitual event". In the Aeroplane example I already gave, I can't put my finger on any difference in meaning between PS or PC. Moreover I can't think of a situation for a timetabled even that requires PS not PC
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 19:54
  • 1
    @chaslyfromUK I've looked at your answer, and I'm afraid I find it unhelpful. And I'm fluent in English. Between "contingency occurrence," "deviation from habit," "timetabled," "scheduled," and "habitual," I can't discern what rule you're describing. But maybe because you're not trying to find a general rule in the face of those many possible contexts. In any case, I think you get idiomatic English if you switch the simples for the continuous in your first Example.
    – deadrat
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


There are so many possible contexts that I shall focus on one difference that I see.

The plane leaves at 3 tomorrow.

This is the scheduled and expected occurrence.


"When does the plane leave?"

"Let me see -- the timetable says that the plane leaves at 3 tomorrow."

The plane's leaving at 3 tomorrow.

This is a contingency occurrence.


"When does the plane leave?"

"Well, according to the help-desk schedule, the plane is leaving at 3 tomorrow."

"That's surprising - doesn't it usually leave at 2.30?"

"Yes but there is a special flight passing through so things have been changed."


The latter event is timetabled -- it is scheduled. However it is not habitual.

  • Nice example. If the timetable were very loose, the 'is leaving' variant would probably also be used: 'The last plane off the island before winter is leaving at 3 tomorrow.' Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 21:56
  • @EdwinAshworth - agreed. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 21:57
  • In the first example wouldn't "The plane's leaving at 3 tomorrow" be perfectly fine though?
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 0:09
  • @chaslyfromUK could you expand on "contingency occurrence". When is it appropriate to use pres cont. for a "contingency occurence" and when the simple "will" future or going to, e.g. "according to the radio, it's going to rain tomorrow" NOT "according to the radio, it's raining tomorrow".
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 23:28
  • @Some-Guy Not for an unmarked statement concerning a 'scheduled and expected occurrence'. If you were just reading a timetable and passing on the information, you'd use 'leaves'. However, you might well use 'The plane's leaving at 3 tomorrow.' if it's 4 pm every other day, or if it's the first flight for the last 6 weeks. Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 23:18

Lots of good commentary--to simply answer your question:

either tense is ok, and using the continuous is not incorrect.

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