why the pres. cont. ?

Howdy folks,

If you could have a look at the following pairs of sentences:

1. I like relaxing when I have / I’m having some free time (sounds weird)
2. I like to relax when I have / I’m having some free time

3. When I drive a car I like smoking a cigarette.
4. When I’m driving a car I like to smoke a cigarette.

In case of the last two sentences I often hear people use the present continuous in when clauses and I’m not sure why. I mean, don’t we use the present simple if we want to convey the regularity of doing something or a habit? Like: every time I’m in a car, driving it I tend to smoke and I enjoy it?

Another example:

5. When I’m using English I often confuse / I’m often confusing tenses.
6. When I use English I often confuse / I’m often confusing tenses.

I know it’s a lot of question but this stuff drives (or is driving?!) me crazy!



Let me make the following points:

  1. As you say, the present simple form often suggests regularity and the present continuous often suggests actuality.

  2. Certain verbs have a ‘built in actuality’ and so ‘I am having’ is really a non starter because ‘have’ on its own indicates continuity.

  3. Using the continuous form with adverbs such as ‘often’ ‘always’ might sound a contradiction but when you do this, you are highlighting both the frequency and the actualty of the tense as in: I am always making that mistake.

  4. Using ‘when’ with the continuous form is perfectly acceptable as it introduces what is happening.


Thank you Alan for your explenations. Yet, I’m still not sure which of my sentences are correct and sound 100% English…