Using Gerunds Without Auxiliary Verbs

Verbal Present Participles Used To Show Simultaneous Action of Two Verbs

woman crying
Lloré escuchando tu voz. (I cried while listening to your voice.). Photo by MarLeah Cole; licensed via Creative Commons.

Although the Spanish verbal present participle or gerund — that is, the form of the verb that ends in -ando or -iendo — is most commonly used with estar and a few other verbs to form what are known as the progressive verb forms, it can also be used by itself (without an auxiliary verb) to indicate that something is being done or occurring while something else is occurring.

In most such cases, the present participle can still be translated using the English "-ing" form of the verb.

There are several ways in which sentences using the gerund can be translated or thought of in English. One common way is for it to be used as the equivalent of the English "while" followed by an "-ing" verb: Here are some examples:

  • Lloré escuchando tu voz. I cried while listening to your voice.
  • Ganaron cinco partidos, perdiendo trece. They won five matches while losing 13.
  • ¿Soy la única en este planeta que se durmió viendo "El silencio de los inocentes"? Am I the only person on this planet who fell asleep while watching "The Silence of the Lambs"?
  • Los participantes comenzaron el estudio comiendo una dieta americana. The participants began the study while eating an American diet.

Note that in most of the above English translations, the word "while" can be omitted with little or no change in meaning.

In some cases (including some of the above examples, depending on how they're interpreted), the gerund is used much like an adverb to describe how the action of the main verb is carried out:

  • Mi amiga salió corriendo. My friend left running.
  • Finalmente se fue sonriendo. Finally he went away laughing.
  • Sólo compraron Nescafé, ignorando el resto de las marcas. They only bought Nescafé, ignoring the other brands.

When the gerund is used to describe how something is done, it can often be translated using the English preposition "by":

  • Usted puede darles el mejor comienzo a sus bebés teniendo un buen cuidado de usted. You can give your babies the best beginning by taking good care of yourself.
  • Podemos ahorrar tiempo usando la bicicleta. We can save time by using the bicycle.
  • Estudiando mucho, tendremos éxito. By studying hard, we will be successful.

Often, in the English translation, the word "by" can be omitted with little or no change in meaning, as in the second example above.

Note that while it is sometimes done in imitation of English, as in news headlines, it is not standard Spanish to use the gerund to affect the meaning of a noun. You would not use fumando, for example, to talk about the smoking man. Normally, you'd use phrase such as "el hombre que fuma." In effect, the Spanish gerund fulfills the function of an adverb, while the English gerund can take the role of an adjective.