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I was doing some exercises and I stumbled upon something that isn't very clear to me. I have to fill in the gaps and explain why I use Simple Present or Present Continuous.

I (to be) furious with John! He (normally - to be) a very reasonable guy but he (to have) some problems with the loss of his wife and (to take out) his anger and bitterness on the entire group.

My conclusion was next: I AM (stative verb) furious with John! He normally IS (stative verb) a very reasonable guy but he IS HAVING (temporary action going on at the time of speaking, with clear beginning and end... or is this also STATIVE?) and he IS TAKING OUT (temporary, clear beginning and end) his anger on the group.

I am struggling with the last two verb tenses.

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    In the last two examples the speaker could employ either simple or continuous, depending on what he wants to communicate. However, the way you have it (both continuous) sounds best to me given the amount of context we have. – Nathaniel Nov 9 '15 at 20:31
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    For instance, in a report about John by somebody (doctor, case worker), the simple present could be used, because it can mean present, ongoing state. Whereas, the use of the continuous (in the last two) introduces the concept of 'a limited duration'. – NES Nov 9 '15 at 20:34
  • so (to have) problems could be a stative verb of possession (= present simple), as wel as a dynamic verb? – Zeya Van Noten Nov 9 '15 at 20:43
  • @ZeyaVanNoten: Yes, that's right. Don – rhetorician Nov 9 '15 at 21:05
  • Although we normally put the word "normally" before the relevant verb, in this specific context we normally use the sequence He is normally a very reasonable guy, but... Without looking into it, I suspect this would normally apply when the verb is a copula or auxiliary. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '15 at 21:17
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I AM furious with John! He normally IS a very reasonable guy [,] but he IS HAVING some problems with the loss of his wife and IS TAKING OUT his anger on the group.

This is a fine sentence. Just add a comma after guy and omit the he before is taking out.

As was pointed out in a comment already, the use of the present tense is fine, too:

I am furious with John! He normally is a very reasonable guy, but he has some problems with the loss of his wife and takes out his anger on the group.

In comparing the time element in your two sentences, you can see the sentences have a slight difference in meaning. I'd be hard-pressed to explain what that slight difference is, however! By providing a larger context you would likely bring the difference, if any, into better relief.

  • Sadly, his problems are due to the loss of his wife. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 9 '15 at 21:37
  • @EdwinAshworth: Where should I send the condolence card? Thanks. Don – rhetorician Nov 9 '15 at 21:57
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    '[H]aving problems due to the loss of his wife' sounds far more idiomatic than '[H]aving problems with the loss of his wife'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 9 '15 at 22:45
  • @EdwinAshworth: No argument there, but I have a feeling the OP is not a native English speaker. Consequently, let's not make things harder for him than necessary. Learning the less idiomatic expression will not, I predict, do irreparable harm by stunting his growth in the English language. I could be wrong, however! Don – rhetorician Nov 9 '15 at 23:45
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    @EdwinAshworth this is something I face all the time...students show me materials they are using in school that were published locally and have many contrived sentences to "help" students know the "right" way to use tenses. The "correct" answers in the books always make me frown, or they have multiple interpretations. The reasons for not using Cambridge or Oxford sources is cost. Local book costs 100, Cambridge book 600. – michael_timofeev Nov 10 '15 at 1:10
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First, let's assume that the first two verbs are conjugated in the present tense, since that is a reasonable base assumption. So we have:

I am furious with John! He is a very reasonable guy...

Easy enough. The difference between the semantic implications of the second part of the sentence become more evident now:

... but he has some problems with the loss of his wife and takes his anger and bitterness on the entire group.

The (simple) present tense implies that it is a habitual action; that is a part of who "John" is. In the sentence above, John is a man who has problems with having lost his wife - for example, he never got over it and has been miserable ever since. Being in such a disposition, he takes it out on his friends -- that's just who he is.

... but he is having some problems with the loss of his wife and is taking his anger and bitterness on the entire group.

This scenario is much more sympathetic to John. The present continuous implies that the act is ongoing -- and, key here, that it may end or change. Thus, in the above sentence, we can assume that he has lost his wife (relatively) recently, and he is currently having problems dealing with it. As a part of coping with the grief, he is taking it out on his friends -- but this isn't normally the case (perhaps he is usually more agreeable).

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Your verb tenses are good. What makes this sentence a little strange is that the word "problem" trivializes John's grief. If you said "he is grieving the loss of his wife," it would sound more compassionate.

  • The first sentence does mention that the speaker is "furious with John", so compassion might not be in the forefront of his thoughts. Also, as this appears to be from an English language exercise, changing from "problems with" to "grieving for" probably isn't an option. – KillingTime Apr 21 at 11:07

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