Present Participles in Spanish

Gerund typically used as equivalent of Engish '-ing' verb form

Person writing
Está escribiendo. (She is writing.). Dotmatchbox/Creative Commons.

The Spanish verb form equivalent to "-ing" verbs in English is known as the present participle or gerund. The gerund always ends in -ando, iendo, or rarely -yendo.

The Spanish gerunds are used much less than the "-ing" verbs of English, however.

Conjugating Spanish Present Participles

The Spanish present participle of regular verbs is formed by removing the -ar ending and replacing it with -ando, or by removing the -er or -ir ending and replacing it with -iendo.

Here are examples of each of the verb types:

  • hablar (to speak) — hablando (speaking)
  • beber (to drink) — bebiendo (drinking)
  • vivir (to live) — viviendo (living)

The verbs that have irregular present participles almost always use the same -ando and -iendo endings, but they have changes in the stems. For example, the present participle of venir (to come) is viniendo (coming), and the present participle of decir (to say) is diciendo (saying). To prevent awkward spellings, a few verbs use a -yendo ending in the participle instead of -iendo. For example, the present participle of leer (to read) is leyendo (reading).

Using Gerunds for the Progressive Tenses

As a beginning Spanish student, the way you are most likely to use the present participle is with the verb estar (to be) to form what is known as the present progressive tense. Here are some examples of that usage: Estoy estudiando. (I am studying.) Está lavando la ropa.

(He is washing the clothing.) Estamos comiendo el desayuno. (We are eating breakfast.) 

Here is the present-tense indicative conjugation of estar combined with a sample present participle to form the present progressive tense:

  • yoEstoy escribiendo. — I am writing.
  • Estás escribiendo. — You are writing.
  • él, ella, ustedEstá escribiendo. — He/she/you is/is/are writing.
  • nosotros, nosotrasEstamos escribiendo. — We are writing.
  • vosotros, vosotrasEstáis escribiendo. — You are writing.
  • ellos, ellas, ustedesEstán escribiendo. — They/you are writing.

The same can be done with other tenses and moods. Although it isn't necessary to learn these yet if you're a beginner, here are some examples to demonstrate the concept:

  • Estaré escribiendo. — I will be writing.
  • Espero que esté escribiendo. — I hope you're writing.
  • Estaba escribiendo. — I/you/he/she was/were writing.

The progressive tenses are used less in Spanish than they are in English. As a general rule, they place an emphasis on the continuing nature of the action. For example, the difference between "leo" and "estoy leyendo" is roughly the difference between "I am reading" and "I am in the process of reading." ("Leo" can also mean simply "I read," indicating a habitual action.)

Present Participles Used Mostly With Other Verbs

One of the major differences between the present participles in English and Spanish is that while the English present participle can frequently be used as an adjective or a noun, in Spanish the present participle is nearly always used in conjunction with other verbs.

Here are some examples of the present participle in use:

  • Estoy pensando en ti. (I am thinking about you.)
  • Anda buscando el tenedor. (He is walking around looking for the fork.)
  • Sigue estudiando los libros. (She keeps on studying the books.) Haces bien estudiando mucho. (You're doing well by studying much.)

At this stage, you do not need to analyze these sentences or understand the details of how the present participle is used. Note, however, that in all these examples the gerund is used to indicate some form of continuing action, and that it can be translated using an "-ing" verb (although it doesn't have to be).

Cases where you wouldn't use the Spanish participle to translate an "-ing" verb include instances where the English present participle is used as a noun or adjective. Note these examples:

  • Ver es creer. (Seeing is believing.)
  • Tiene un tigre que come hombres. (She has a man-eating tiger.)
  • Hablar español es divertido. (Speaking Spanish is fun.)
  • Me gusta comer. (I like eating.)
  • Compré los zapatos de correr. (I bought the running shoes.)

Also note that while in English we can use the present progressive tense to refer to a future event (as in "We are leaving tomorrow"), that can't be done in Spanish. You must use either the simple present tense (salimos mañana) or a future tense (saldremos mañana or vamos a salir mañana).

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Present Participles in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 22, 2018, Erichsen, Gerald. (2018, April 22). Present Participles in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Present Participles in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 21, 2018).