I have to write an email to inform other people about some error that occurred. I want to write:

It is returning "value 1" instead of "value 2" when I select something which is causing the error.

My question is, should I use simple present instead of present continuous?

It returns "value 1" instead of "value 2" when I select something which is causing the error.

  • 3
    You may need a comma after something, depending on whether it's the value which causes the error (needs the comma) or you are selecting something which causes the error itself (must not have a comma). That potential ambiguity is far more important than returns/is returning, either of which is perfectly understandable, even if returns is to be preferred.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 8, 2013 at 10:57
  • Use present tense for both verbs: “It returns "value1" instead of "value2" when I select something that causes the error.” Jan 8, 2013 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


One of the uses of the present tense is to state a general truth, such as Water boils at 100 degrees. It returns “value1" instead of "value2" is not, perhaps, of the same broad interest, but it expresses the continuing state of affairs in regard to the error you are reporting, and that makes it the appropriate choice for your email.

By contrast, It is returning “value1" instead of "value2" might be what you would say if you were asked the question What’s it doing now?


Yes. Simple present is preferable.

  • 2
    Any particular reason? I mean, I could say "simple past is preferable" but if I don't include "because the present is so infinitesimally short." then people will think I'm just commenting on the question. Jan 8, 2013 at 11:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.