Progressive Verb Forms in Spanish

They're also known as continuous verbs

En sólo cuatro horas estaré viajando a Palenque. (In only four hours I will be traveling to Palenque.). Dennis Jarvis/Creative Commons.

The progressive tenses in Spanish are formed by using a conjugated form of estar, a verb usually translated as "to be," followed by a present participle, the form of the verb that ends in -ando or -iendo. (In English, the progressive verbs are formed by using a form of "to be" followed by the present participle or "-ing" verb form.)

Although the progressive verb form (also called the continuous verb form) is used much less in Spanish than it is in English, the various tenses of the Spanish progressive verb forms are the rough equivalent of the same forms in English.

Present Progressive

In the present progressive tense, for example, "Estoy estudiando" is roughly the equivalent of "I am studying." Note, however, that you also could say "I am studying" as "Estudio." In Spanish, the progressive forms put additional emphasis on the continuing nature of the action, although the distinction isn't readily translatable. Although the present progressive can be used in English for future events (as in "The train is leaving soon"), that can't be done in Spanish.

  • Te estoy mirando. (I am looking at you.)
  • Finalmente estamos comprendiendo la importancia de la comunicación. (Finally we are understanding the importance of communication.)
  • En este momento estamos mejorando nuestro sitio web para poder servirles mejor. (At this moment we are improving our website in order to serve you better.)

Imperfect Progressive

This tense is the more common past progressive tense. It places emphasis on the continuing nature of the action, although again in many contexts there would be little translatable difference between, for example, "Yo estaba hablando con mi madre" and "Yo hablaba con mi madre," both of which can be understood to mean "I was talking with my mother."

  • Un conejito estaba corriendo por la jungla cuando ve a una jirafa. (A bunny was running through the jungle when he saw a giraffe.)
  • ¿En qué estaban pensando? (What were they thinking of?)
  • No se estaban oyendo el uno al otro. (They weren't listening to each other.)

Preterite Progressive

This tense is used less often than the imperfect progressive to refer to past actions. It is not used to explain the background of an event (as in the first example in the preceding section). Use of this form suggests there was a clear end to the activity.

  • Hoy estuve oyendo la música de Santana. (Today I was listening to the music of Santana.)
  • La actriz estuvo comprando ropa para su hija. (The actress was buying clothes for her daughter.)
  • Seis equipos estuvieron jugando desde las 12 pm hasta las 9 pm para decidir quien sería el campeón. (Six teams were playing from noon until 9 p.m. to decide who would be the champion.)

Future Progressive

This tense can be used to refer to events that will be happening. And, as with the simple future tense, it can be used to say that something is likely in the present.

  • En sólo cuatro horas estaré viajando a Palenque. (In only four hours I will be traveling to Palenque.)
  • Tarde o temprano estaremos sufriendo. (Sooner or later we will be suffering.)
  • Estarán estudiando ahora. (They're probably studying now.)
  • Estará gastando mucho dinero en Cancún. (She must be spending a lot of money in Cancun.)

Conditional Progressive

This tense is commonly used as the equivalent of verb constructions such as "would be doing."

  • Si hubiera nacido en Estados Unidos estaría comiendo una hamburguesa. )If I had been born in the United States I would be eating a hamburger.)
  • Si fuera tú no estaría trabajando tanto. (If I were you, I wouldn't be working so much.)+
  • Nunca pensé que estaría diciendo ahora estas cosas. (I never thought I would be saying these things.)
  • Obviamente estamos interesados; si no, no estaríamos conversando. (Obviously, we're interested; if not, we wouldn't be talking.)

Perfect Progressive

The present participle or gerund also can follow a conjugated form of haber followed by estado to form perfect progressive tenses, much as can be done in English with "have" or "had" and "been." Such tenses carry the ideas of both continuous action and completion. These tenses aren't particularly common.

  • Dijeron los padres que el niño había estado gozando de completa salud hasta el 8 de noviembre. (The parents said that the boy had been enjoying excellent health until Nov. 8.)
  • Los estudiantes habrán estado utilizando los ordenadores. (The students will have been using the computers.)
  • Habrían estado comprando el pan en calle Serrano a la hora de la explosión. (They would have been buying bread on Serrano Street at the time of the explosion.)

Progressive Tenses in the Subjunctive Mood

If the sentence of the structure requires it, you can also use the progressive forms in the subjunctive mood.

  • No creo que estemos viviendo hoy en una democracia. (I don't believe we today are living in a democracy.)
  • Es posible que esté pensando en comprar una casa. (It is possible that she is thinking about buying a house.)
  • Es casi como si estuvieran nadando. (It is almost as if they were swimming.)
  • No es posible que haya estado durmiendo. (It is not possible that I have been sleeping.)