When to Use & When Not to Use the Spanish Present Progressive (2023)

You may have noticed that the Spanish language has the present progressive tense just like English.

But, the problem is, you can’t just simply translate the English present progressive to the Spanish present progressive in every situation.

Sometimes the present progressive in English translates tothe normal present tense in Spanish. Sometimes the Spanish progressive tense doesn’t use the verb you expect. And, sometimes the verb form used in the English progressive tensecan’t be translated at all.

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the Spanish present progressive tense including how to form it, when to use it, and (most importantly) when not to use it.

You’ll also learn about the translation of English and Spanish gerunds, which is where we will start.

English vs Spanish gerunds

To help you think about the translation of the present progressive from English to Spanish, we are going to start by closely examining verb forms that end in ‘ing’ in English. Some examples include ‘talking’, ‘leaving’, ‘sleeping’, or ‘dancing’.

In English, we use ‘ing’ verb forms in several different situations.

We use these verb forms to describe developing actions, actions that are kind of happening but not at this very moment, and we use these verb forms as nouns.

For example, in English, we say things like:

I like running.
Eating is my favorite pastime.
Flying makes me nervous.
I’m going to go to Spain next year.

And, to highlight the main problem, when you translate these sentences into Spanish, none of them would use a Spanish gerund.

If you are going to translate the above sentences into Spanish, you need to replace the English ‘ing’ verb forms with the infinitive forms of the Spanish verbs: ‘to run’ (correr), ‘to eat’ (comer), and ‘to fly’ (volar).

In addition,the last example, ‘going’, is a little different. But I’ll get back to that in a section below (the ‘banned list’).

Practically, there is only one clear situation where you can translate an English ‘ing’ verb form easily between Spanish and English.

This situation is when you use an English ‘ing’ verb form to describe a developing action.

For example,

He is cleaning.
She is working.
They are studying.

Right now, I’m writing this article.

Or more aptly…

Right now, you are reading this article.

All of these examples can translate really well into Spanish.

Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean a native will use the gerund in the same sentence, just that you can and you’ll end up with a grammatically correct sentence.

So, try to keep this in mind:

Only translate an English ‘ing’ verb form to a Spanish gerund directly when it represents a developing action.

Maybe you can think of a good rule as the ‘video camera’ test. If you can take out your phone and record someone doing something then you’ll be able to translate between an English ‘ing’ verb form and the Spanish gerund easily.

To see this in action, if we take an earlier example, ‘eating is my favorite pastime’, you can’t really record this idea with a camera. You can record yourself eating, but you can’t record the idea of it being your favorite pastime unless you are saying it. (Note only one of the two underlined words in the previous sentence translates well into Spanish! Hopefully, you can now tell me which one!!)

All that said, there are still some exceptions and subtleties, but I’ll get back to these later.

For now, hopefully, you’ve got a good introductory feel for when you can use a Spanish gerund. So, the next step, you’ll need to know how to form them.

So, let’s look at that next…

How to form Spanish gerunds

We can categorize regular Spanish gerunds into two groups: ‘ar’ verbs and ‘er and ir‘ verbs.

In order to form regular gerunds in Spanish for ‘ar’ verbs, you just have to remove the ‘ar’ and replace it with ‘ando’. Here are some examples:

Llegar → Llegando.
Hablar → Hablando.
Tomar → Tomando.

In order to form regular gerunds for‘er‘ and ‘ir‘ verbs, you need to remove the ‘er‘ or ‘ir‘ and replace it with an ‘iendo‘. Forexample:

Aprender→ Aprendiendo.
Correr→ Corriendo.
Escribir→ Escribiendo.
Vivir→ Viviendo.

Of course, the story doesn’t stop there.

You also need to learn the irregular Spanish gerunds.

We can categorize irregular gerunds in Spanish into two groups: stem-changing and completely irregular.

For stem-changing irregular gerunds, you can predict what the gerunds are going to be from the normal stem changes that occur with the present conjugations of the verb:

Decir→Diciendo.
Repetir→ Repitiendo.
Dormir→ Durmiendo.

As you can see ‘decir‘ is normally an E→I stem-changing verb (digo, dices, dice, etc.) hence ‘diciendo‘. Similarly, ‘repetir‘ is also an E→I stem-changing verb (repito, repites, repite, etc.) hence ‘repitiendo‘.

Dormir‘ is a little more trickybut still not too bad. It is normally an O→UE stem change verb (duermo, duermes, duerme, etc.) and becomes ‘durmiendo‘.

For Spanish gerunds that are completely irregular, you will just need to memorize them. That said, there is a pattern here too:

Ir→ Yendo.
Leer → Leyendo.
Oír→ Oyendo.

Once you are familiar with forming regular and irregular Spanish gerunds, you then need to combine them with a verb to form the Spanish present progressive tense.

How to form the Spanish present progressive tense

To form the present progressive tense in Spanish, you simply need to combinethe verb ‘estar’ with the Spanish gerund.

Note: There is no equivalent for the term ‘present progressive tense’ in Spanish, they simply call this construction ‘estar + gerundio’.

Now, using our examples from above, in Spanish these are:

English: He is cleaning.
Español: Él está limpiando.

English: She is working.
Español: Ella está trabajando.

English: They are studying.
Español: Ellosestán estudiando.

English: Right now, I’m writing this article.
Español: Ahora mismo, estoy escribiendo este artículo.

English: Right now, you are reading this article.
Español: Ahora mismo, estás leyendo este artículo.

Note that one of the big challenges of Spanish is remembering the uses of ser vs estar. But, when it comes to the Spanish present progressive, you always use estar.Never conjugateserand use it with a Spanish gerund!

Now you have a good understanding of how to form the present progressive in Spanish. You could stop reading here, it’s a good place to start putting things into practice.

But, if you want to go deeper, then keep reading!

The Spanish present progressive – reflexive verbs

What I left out of the previous section was how to form the present progressive using reflexive verbs.

If you know how to use Spanish reflexive verbs, it is straightforwardto form reflexive verbs in the Spanish present progressive. You just need to know about one subtlety with pronunciation.

Starting with the reflexive verb lavarse(to wash), we can takethe following sentence:

English: I wash my hands.
Español: Me lavo las manos.

And, change it to the present progressive:

English: I’m washing my hands.
Español: Me estoy lavando las manos.

Yet, when you form reflexive verbs in the Spanish present progressive you can move the pronoun to after the gerund as follows:

English: I’m washing my hands.
Español: Estoy lavándome las manos.

And when you do this,you need to maintain theemphasis on the second ‘á‘ when you speak (estoy lavÁndome), hence the accent.

Note you only need to do this when the pronoun goes after the gerund.

Another example with ducharse (to shower),

English: He is showering.
Español: Él está duchándose.

Again, the emphasis needs to be on the second ‘á‘(está duchÁndose).

The Spanish present progressive –using haber

Another way to express the present progressive in Spanish is with the auxiliary verb haber.

Instead of describing a developing action with‘I’m…’, ‘you are…’, ‘he is…’ andestar, you can say ‘there is…’ or ‘there are…’ with haber.

For example,

English: There is a boy playing in the park.
Español: Hay un niño jugando en el parque.

English: There are two men singing in the street.
Español: Hay dos hombres cantando en la calle.

Of course, this construction ‘haber + gerundio‘ isn’t as common as ‘estar + gerundio‘, nonetheless it still might be quite useful for you.

Now we need to look at a few more of the subtleties of using the Spanish present progressive.

The gerund ‘banned list’ in Spanish

I mentioned earlier that you can only translate gerunds easily between Spanish and English when an action is developing. That isn’t entirely true.

Sometimes Spanish speakers will use the present tense instead of the present progressive tense when an action is developing.

This is because of one of two reasons:

  1. The verb is on the ‘banned list’ for gerunds.
  2. It might be a habitual action (see the next section).

Some verbs in Spanish are rarely used in the gerund form. This is because these verbs are on the ‘banned list’ for Spanish gerunds.

To be clear, ‘banned’ doesn’t mean impossible, but very unlikely, especially while using the present progressive tense with the verb estar.

I will break up the verbs on the ‘banned list’ into two smaller groups because I think you are more likely to have problems with the first group.

This first groupof verbs that you are more likely to get into trouble with are:

Ir(to go)

Venir (to come)

I think you might have trouble with these because we say ‘going’ and ‘coming’ a lot in English.

Remember the example at the start of the article:

English: I’m going to go to Spain next year.
Español: Voy a ir a España el próximo año.

Also,

English: Are you coming to visit me next week?
Español: ¿Vas a visitarme la semana que viene?

Whenever you are talking or asking about the future, you’ll need the verb construction ‘ir + a’. And, you need to form the verb irin the present tense (voy, vas, va, etc.).

Even if the action is developing, you still shouldn’tsay:

English: Right now, I’m going to the gym.
Español: Ahora mismo, estoy yendo al gimnasio.

Again, this needs to be in the present tense:

English: Right now, I’m going to the gym.
Español: Ahora mismo, voy al gimnasio.

Another example:

English: I’m coming from work in order to arrive at the party on time.
Español: Vengo del trabajo para llegar a tiempo a la fiesta.

The second group of verbs on the banned list are:

Conocer(to be familiar with)

Entender (to understand)

Necesitar (to need)

Querer (to want)

Saber (to know)

Tener (to have)

I think you will have less trouble with these verbs because their English equivalents don’t tend to use gerunds either.

For example, in English, we don’t tend to say:

I’m having money in my wallet.
I’m not wanting something to eat.

I’m not understanding this concept.
We’re knowingsomething useful.

Thus, you wouldn’t express these ideas in Spanish with the present progressive either.

In English, we tend to use the verb ‘to do’ in these cases, such as ‘I don’t want’, ‘I don’t understand’, ‘we do know’ etc.

For this reason, hopefully, it will be easier to use this second group of verbs on the gerund banned list in Spanish. Again, just think about the verbs in English you need to use ‘do’ and ‘do not’ with.

Spanish present progressive vs present tense

In addition to the ‘banned list’, there is another reason why native Spanish speakers will switch between the present and present progressive verb tenses.

It has to do with whether a developing action is habitual or not.

In short, if a developing action is habitual, then you should use the present tense.

For example:

English: It is really hot this summer.
Español: Hace mucho calor este verano.

If it is habitually hot every year, then you’ll hear this idea expressed in the present tense.

But, if it happens that one year it is uncharacteristically cold, you would hear:

English: It is really cold this summer.
Español: Está haciendo mucho frío este verano.

Here, you use the Spanish present progressive to highlight that something unusual is developing.

Another example could relate to working habits:

English: She normally works in the city, but this month she is working out of town.
Español: Normalmente ella trabaja en el centro, pero este mes está trabajando fuera de la ciudad.

Here, the ‘working’ out of town is unusual or out of habit. So, you would express the idea in the present progressive to highlight the change from routine.

Phrases with gerunds (perifrasis)

The last topic for this article is about Spanish phrases that use gerunds, apart from estar.

In Spanish, a‘perifrasis verbal‘ is a construction that uses a conjugated verb followed by a verb in infinitive form, a gerund, or a participle.

I’m only going to briefly introduce ‘perifrasis verbales‘ here because the topic could be a whole article on its own.

What I’ll focus on is a subcategory of perifrasis: phrases that usegerunds. And, I’ll pick a few of the most common and useful.

The first phrase is:

Llevar + gerundio (to have been (doing something))

When you combine a Spanish gerund with the verb llevar, you create an especially useful phrase.

This phrase literally means ‘to be carrying (on doing something)’. But, you actually use this phraseto describe actions that you have been doing for a while.

This phrase is really common in Spanish but I often hear even advanced Spanish students not using it properly.

You should also combine this phrase with a time period to specify how long you have been doing whatever it is that you have been doing.

Here are some examples:

English: How long have you been studying Spanish?
Español: ¿Cuánto tiempo llevas estudiando español?

English: I have been learning Spanish for 3 years.
Español: Llevo tres años aprendiendo español.

English: We have been living here for 6 months.
Español: Llevamos seis meses viviendo aquí.

Note that you don’t need a preposition for ‘for’ with the time period. You just say the time period on its own (tres años, seis meses). Also, the time period often goes between the conjugated verb and the gerund.

The secondphrase I’ll introduce in this article is:

Seguir + gerundio(to becontinuing(on doing something))

Another way to translate this phrase is ‘to still be (doing something)’.

You needthis phrase to describe actions that have been continuing for some time. And, often, you’ll use it innegative contexts.

Although, if you do express an idea using this construction, it doesn’t have to be negative.

Some examples,

English: My brother is still talking on the telephone.
Español: Mi hermano sigue hablando por teléfono.

English: After three weeks, it is still raining.
Español: Después de tres semanas, sigue lloviendo.

Looking closely at the first example, if you wanted to use the telephone, you could use this phrase to complain to a parent and highlight that it is your turn. Here, the idea is definitely negative.

With the second example, if you had beenin the middle of a drought for years, you might be using this phrase to celebrate and point out how wonderful three weeks of rain is.

Hopefully, this highlights that ‘seguir + gerundio‘ is oftennegative but that context plays an important role.

Your turn

¿Sigues leyendo este artículo?

Great, then your next step is to put some of it to use.

I want to make sure you remember this, and the best way to do that is to put it to use as soon as you can.

The best situation to try to use these gerund rules is in your next Spanish conversation because it will force you to remember them and use them properly. And, if you don’t quite use the rules properly, you will get instantfeedback.

But, if you can’t do that, maybe the next best thing is to practice forming these sentences with a piece of paper and a pen.

Try towrite out:
– 5 sentences in the Spanish progressive tense (estar + gerundio)
– 5 sentences with the banned list verbs
– 2 sentences with ‘llevar + gerundio’ or ‘seguir + gerundio

Then congratulate yourself on a good quality study session.

Howwill you usetheSpanish present progressive tense?

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