Unit 8: Preterit (Part 2), “to be” verbs, present participle and progressive tenses

8.5 The Present Participle and Progressive Forms

The Spanish present participle, the forms of which correspond to the verb + “-ing,” is as follows:

caminar caminando
ver viendo
discutir discutiendo

As seen in preterite forms such as cayeron and construyeron, in -er and -ir verbs whose stems end in a vowel, the i of the present participle becomes a y:

traer trayendo
leer leyendo
oír oyendo
huir huyendo

Stem-changing verbs ending in –ir show e to i and o to u shifts (pedir becomes pidiendo and dormir, durmiendo), but these should not cause comprehension difficulties.

The present participle of ir is yendo, but it is seldom seen in formal writing.

As in English, the present participle may stand alone and has two possibilities of translation:

Viajando, se aprende mucho. (By) Traveling, one learns a lot.
Especializándose en comercio, encontró trabajo fácilmente. (By) Majoring in business, she found work easily.

Other times the present participle is employed when one would not expect it, and it translates as the equivalent of “while” + subject + verb:

Estando yo en el carro, me di cuenta de que no sabía exactamente dónde estaba. While I was in the car, I realized I didn’t know exactly where I was.

Remember that while English generally uses the present participle when a verb is the subject of the sentence, Spanish uses the infinitive (section 5.1):

Leer ciencia ficción le aburre. Reading science fiction bores her.

The present participle combines with the forms of estar to make the progressive forms, used for actions taking place at a specific moment. The translation must be a form of “to be” + the present participle. Estar may combine in any tense with the present participle, though this construction is most frequently seen in the present and imperfect tenses.

Ahora mismo están escribiendo. Right now they’re writing.
Tito estaba leyendo ayer a las dos. Tito was reading yesterday at two o’clock.

Spanish generally uses the progressive forms less than English does. Remember that vengo, for example, may translate as “I come,” “I do come,” “I’ll come,” and “I am coming.” Likewise the imperfect, venía, may translate as “I came,” “I used to come,” or “I was coming.” The multiple possibilities for translations of the simple present tense reduce the need for frequent use of the progressive form (estar + gerund), making their usage less common than in English.

The present participle is also used as an adverb (modifying the verb) and combines with verbs other than estar, especially those of motion.

Anda perdiendo tiempo. He goes around wasting time.
Entró corriendo. She entered running.
Seguíamos trabajando. We continued (kept on) working.



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