The present progressive in Spanish might seem a little daunting at first since you need to conjugate two different verbs to use it, but in reality, it’s one of the easiest tenses you’re going to learn!
The present progressive tense, also known as a perífrasis verbal, is composed of two verbs that function as one. The Spanish present progressive is more or less the same as the English present continuous tense (to be doing), but you’re going to see that there are some minor differences to keep in mind.
So get out your notes, because today estás estudiando el gerundio.
What is the present progressive?
As we mentioned, the present progressive is a perífrasis verbal. There are many of these types of phrases in Spanish. To form the present progressive, you just need the verb “estar” and to conjugate a second verb.
In fact, this structure is the same as in English, so that should be easy to understand! The Spanish present progressive tense is used to describe events that are currently ongoing. You’ll also see that the participle (the gerund form), can have other uses as well.
So today we’re going to dive in and explain everything you need to know about the Spanish present progressive.
How do you conjugate it?
Since you need two verbs, let’s start with the first verb, estar. You just have to conjugate the verb estar in the present tense. Here’s a quick rundown in case you need a reminder:
|Spanish Personal Pronouns||English Personal Pronouns|
|Tú / vos (singular – informal)||Estás|
|Usted (singular – formal)||Está|
|Él / Ella (singular)||Está|
|Ustedes (plural – Latin America)||Están|
|Vosotros (plural – Spain)||Estáis|
|Ellos / Ellas||Están|
So for the present progressive in Spanish, estar will function as an auxiliary verb. There are lots of other examples of these types of verbs that you might be familiar with. For example, the auxiliary verb haber is used in many other verb tenses, as well.
So with the verb estar in the present simple form, we then need to change the second verb to the present participle form. The present participle is also known as the gerund (gerundio). This is the famous -ing ending in English.
By adding these two Spanish verbs together, you form the present progressive tense. Now, let’s look at how you can conjugate the present participle:
-ar verbs are certainly the easiest of the whole list to do. To make their present participle, all you need to do is remove the –ar, then add –ando to the ending. Here are some examples:
- Caminar – caminando
- Hablar – hablando
- Andar – andando
- Estudiar – estudiando
Verb conjugation is essential to Spanish as in any other language, and the sooner you master it, the quicker you’ll start speaking like a native. Check out our comprehensive guide on The Simplest Way to Understand Spanish Regular Verb Conjugation.
For –er verbs, it’s a similar process. To form the present participles, you just need to remove the -er ending, then add –iendo. Let’s check out some more examples:
- Correr – corriendo
- Aprender – aprendiendo
- Vender – vendiendo
- Barrer – barriendo
Want to know the best part about the Spanish present progressive tense? –Er verbs and –Ir verbs are conjugated exactly the same way! You just take off the -ir, then add –iendo.
- Vivir – viviendo
- Decidir – decidiendo
- Cumplir – cumpliendo
- Sufrir – sufriendo
Now comes the part that is a little more difficult. Unfortunately, just like the regular present tense, the present participles have several irregular forms. In fact, there are 3 main categories of changes:
e – i
These Spanish gerunds are some of the most common ones. These verbs have a stem change where the “e” in the main part of the verb changes to an “i”. Let’s look at some examples of these irregular gerunds and you can try to figure out the pattern:
- Servir – Sirviendo
- Pedir – Pidiendo
- Decir – Diciendo
- Competir – Compitiendo
- Repetir – Repitiendo
- Seguir – Siguiendo
Notice the pattern? They’re all -ir verbs. As you keep studying Spanish, you’ll start realizing that –ir verbs are constantly the problematic group.
In fact, within this group of stem-changing verbs, there’s a subgroup. These are verbs that lose the “e” altogether, just to not have two “i”s next to each other.
- Freír – Friendo
- Reír – Riendo
- Sonreír – Sonriendo
o – u
This next group of present participle verbs will have a stem change from “o” to “u”.
- Dormir – Durmiendo
- Morir – Muriendo
Luckily, this group is relatively limited. These are likely the only two stem-changing verbs you’ll need in this category. And of course, they’re also -ir verbs.
The final group of stem changers for the present progressive is verbs that add a “y” instead of an “i” in the ending. This usually happens in verbs that end in a vowel before the -er / -ir ending.
- Ir – Yendo
- Construir – Construyendo
- Traer – Trayendo
- Oír – Oyendo
- Leer – Leyendo
- Caer – Cayendo
Luckily, these changes for the present progressive are actually pretty helpful here. It makes the words considerably easier to pronounce.
When to use the present progressive
Great job, now you know how to form the Spanish progressive tense! The next step is knowing when you should use it and when you should stick to the simple present indicative. Since the Spanish language is a bit different than English, the rules aren’t exactly the same.
In fact, you’ll see that English speakers tend to overuse the Spanish present progressive. So let’s check out all the times you should be using it.
Actions currently happening
This first usage is definitely the easiest time to use Spanish gerunds and you likely won’t have any problems at all with this one.
For actions that are currently happening at this very moment, you use the progressive in Spanish. Here are some common examples:
- Ahora mismo estoy estudiando español: Right now I’m studying Spanish
- ¿Qué estás haciendo?: What are you doing?
- Estoy escribiendo este artículo: I am writing this article
- ¿Estás haciendo la cena?: Are you cooking dinner?
In all of these examples, the action of the sentence is taking place at the time they are speaking. However, it’s important to note that sometimes, it is also acceptable to use the normal present tense instead of the gerund forms. For example:
- ¿Y ahora qué haces? – What are you doing now?
- No trabajo presencialmente – I don’t work / I’m not working in person.
Sometimes it may sound more intuitive to English speakers to use the present progressive, but for Spanish speakers, it’s perfectly fine to use the regular present tense.
Actions that frequently happen
You can also use the progressive tense to talk about things that often happen, just as you could use the regular present indicative.
However, in order to use the present participles in this context, normally you’ll need to use some sort of time marker so that it’s clear what you mean. For example:
- Últimamente está trabajando mucho: Lately he’s working a lot.
- Como estamos en pandemia, me estoy lavando las manos todo el tiempo: Since we in a pandemic, I’m washing my hands all the time.
- Estoy leyendo por las noches, ya que tengo examen la semana que viene: I’m reading at night since I have an exam next week.
- Siempre está quejándose: He’s always complaining
So the interesting thing about this usage of the present progressive is the fact that you could probably use the regular present tense in the same sentence, but it would change the meaning slightly. Let’s look at that example:
As you’re learning Spanish, it’s important to remember what the goal is with each of these grammar tenses. With the present progressive, you want to express a sense of continuity at the moment.
In other words, we want to show how something is continually happening now. So in these cases, you are emphasizing this idea. Let’s compare two examples:
- Ella teletrabaja / Ella está teletrabajando: She’s working remotely.
- Este verano hace mucho calor / Este verano está haciendo mucho calor: This summer it’s very hot.
For these examples, let’s focus on the Spanish part, not the English translation. In the first example, you could use both the present indicative and the present progressive to describe that she is working remotely. However, by using the perífrasis verbal, you are emphasizing this current, ongoing situation.
So what does this emphasis mean for us? Well, it tells the listener that maybe she doesn’t usually work remotely, but lately she is.
The same goes for the second example. Both of the sentences describe the fact that it’s hot this summer. However, the progressive tense here is telling the listener that what is important is that it’s hot now, lately, and currently.
In the end, the gerund form tells us that it’s an unusually hot summer. Maybe previous summers haven’t been so hot.
The truth is that grammar usually gives us a special meaning. There’s always a reason behind Spanish grammar (and that reason isn’t just to be difficult). So as you are working on your language skills, it’s a good idea to always think about the function of a grammar tense, so it’ll make situations like this clear for you.
The good news, however, is that here it isn’t a huge difference, so if it hasn’t clicked in your head yet, don’t worry. Make sure you continue to actively learn Spanish and eventually it will all make sense.
As an adverb
This is one of the most popular usages of the gerund in Spanish. Technically, we’re only looking at the gerund form, not the entire perífrasis verbal. So actually, this part is no longer the present progressive, but since we’re already here, we might as well talk about one of the most overlooked uses.
One of the most important functions of the gerund is to describe how an action occurred. In other words, it can become an adverb. Let’s look at some examples:
- Cruzó el río nadando: He crossed the river swimming*
- Salí del edificio corriendo: He left the building running*
- La niña se durmió llorando: The girl fell asleep crying*
** You might have noticed, all three of these examples might not sound very natural in English. That’s because these are literal translations since it is relatively uncommon to use the gerund in English this way.
In English, we would probably say “He swam across the river” “He ran out of the building” or “She cried herself to sleep”, instead. In Spanish, however, we don’t like to use those types of sentences and instead, it’s more natural to use a verb to describe the main action and the gerund to give more details, rather than using a specific verb and a preposition (like in English).
So why is this so important to know? Because Spanish learners are always saying “Volé sobre el atlántico” to describe a flight or a trip. And now you know that in Spanish, that just sounds weird. So unless you are Superman, you’ll probably say “Crucé el atlántico volando/en avión”.
To make questions
Finally, to form questions using the present progressive, all you need to do is have your intonation rise toward the end of the sentence. This will turn your statement into a question to ask about a current situation:
- ¿Estás preparando la cena?: Are you preparing dinner?
- ¿Lo estás pasando bien?: Are you having a good time?
Other perífrasis verbal
Did you know that there are actually other verbs you can use with the gerund to have a similar idea? Here are some examples of other verbs that make a similar perífrasis verbal:
- El tío sigue hablando con su ex… – The dude keeps talking to his ex.
- Llevo años viviendo en la ciudad – I’ve been living in the city for years.
- El precio de la luz continúa subiendo – The price of electricity continues to rise.
The reason why you can do this is that, technically, there is no “present progressive” in Spanish. If you read a grammar textbook designed for native Spanish speakers, you’ll only find a section on different types of perífrasis verbal.
For you, an English speaker, we like to talk about the “present progressive” because it’s an easy way for you to understand. But unless you plan on getting a doctorate in Spanish grammar, don’t worry about it. Just know that you’re not limited to estar + gerundio.
When not to use the present progressive
Now that we have seen all these different ways to use the perífrasis verbal, let’s look at a couple of common mistakes that English speakers make.
To describe the future
We cannot use this gerund to describe something in the future. The phrase “going to” is not translated as “yendo a”. The same goes for the verb “coming”. So DO NOT do the following:
- Estoy yendo a hacer la comida. – I’m going to make lunch.
- Estoy viniendo a visitarte. – I’m coming to visit you.
The English “going to” to talk about the future is translated as “ir a”. So, “voy a hacer la comida” and “voy a visitarte”.
Present things in general
This is the last section of this all-inclusive guide to the present progressive, so hang on tight.
When talking about things in general, which is not referencing a current action, then you use the regular present tense and not this perífrasis verbal. ´For example:
Estoy estudiandoespañol en la universidad. – I’m majoring in Spanish.
- Estudio español en la universidad. – I’m majoring in Spanish.
Unless you are currently sitting at your university and studying for a Spanish exam, you wouldn’t say the first sentence. So since it’s something that is a general truth, you would use the normal present tense.
Good job, you’ve made it. Now you know everything there is about the perífrasis verbal with gerunds in Spanish. The good news is that English learners don’t typically struggle with this tense for too long.
You just need to learn a couple of common, normal mistakes and you’re good to go. And the best way to have it sink in is by practicing. So go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes so you can practice what you learned.
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