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Are you having a sister?

Are you having a sister?
Ever been asked this question by somebody? Do they think you are a cannibal? (A literal translation of the sentence can actually mean ‘Are you eating a sister?’)

A very common error that we make while using English is to substitute the present continuous tense (am/is/are having) for the simple present tense (have/has) when we want to express possession.

So, let’s remember: To express possession, use the simple present tense.

Some other important uses of the Simple Present tense are:
(1) to express an action that takes place regularly. I walk to school daily.
(2) to show a state of being.  He is happy.
(3) to talk about a future event that is scheduled or timetabled. The train leaves at 7.00PM

The present continuous tense, however, expresses an action that is taking place right now. (And that may very probably change in the near future.)

He is writing a letter at the moment. (He will finish shortly.)

Today, they are walking to school together. (Only today)

Often though, even when the action is taking place right now, we use the simple present tense rather than the present continuous tense. This is especially so if the verb expresses an action that has to do with one of the bodily senses (hearing, seeing, etc.) or with feelings, or with thinking.

I think you do not like her. NOT I am thinking you are not liking her. (Even though, the thought is something that you are probably thought of, at that moment only)

You can also use the present continuous tense to indicate a definite future plan.

I am going to Pune next month.

Quick Quiz 2: Spot the errors
(These are actual examples that I have encountered in my training sessions.)

a. Are you suspecting a communication problem?
b. I am knowing her brother.
c. We know you are not liking the environment in office.
d. She is having a terrible headache.
e. I was having exams in May.


a. Do you suspect a communication problem? (Even though the problem is temporary, the verb suspect has to do with thinking/feeling/intuiting.)
b. I know her brother. (The verb know expresses an action ‘that is’. I will continue to know her brother for an extended period of time.)
c. He does not like the environment at work. (The verb like expresses a feeling.)
d. She has a terrible headache. (Having a headache has to do with the body, thus the Simple Present tense.)
e. I have exams in May. (A future event that is time-tabled.)

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