What are you doing right now?
What’s happening around you?
To answer these questions in Spanish, you’re going to need a tense called the present progressive (a.k.a. the present continuous). It’s the tense you use when you want to talk about what you’re doing right now.
And in Spanish that would be: “Estoy leyendo un artículo muy interesante en FluentU.”
So as you might imagine, this is a very useful tense!
But, beware! The biggest problem for English-speaking learners of Spanish with the present progressive is actually the tendency to overuse it. In this article, we’ll look at how to form the tense, when to use it and when not to use it.
Note that the present progressive is just one use of gerunds. We’ve got a full guide to the other uses of Spanish gerunds here.
Also, if you’ve landed here but don’t yet have a full understanding of the ordinary Spanish present tense, I’d recommend that you thoroughly study that first.
How to Form the Spanish Present Progressive in 3 Steps
1. Conjugate estar in the present tense
To form the present tense, you’re first going to need the present tense of estar, which is one of the two verbs in Spanish that mean “to be.” Chances are, you’ve learned this already. Even so, here’s a refresher:
yo estoy — I am
tú estás — you (informal singular) are
él/ella/usted está — he is/she is/you (formal singular) are
nosotros estamos — we are
vosotros estáis — you (informal plural) are
ellos/ellas/ustedes están — they are/you (formal plural) are
2. Add the gerund form of the second verb
Next, you’ll need the gerund form of the second verb, which is like the -ing ending we tack on to verbs in English. In Spanish, there are two different possibilities for regular verbs.
For verbs ending in –ar, we take off that infinitive –ar ending and add –ando.
bailar (to dance) ⇒ bail– ⇒ bailando (dancing)
For verbs ending in –er or –ir, we take off those endings and add –iendo.
comer (to eat) ⇒ com– ⇒ comiendo (eating)
escribir (to write) ⇒ escrib– ⇒ escribiendo (writing)
3. Put your conjugated estar and second verb together
Put together your elements from steps one and two, and you have a present progressive phrase! For example:
Ellos están bailando. — They are dancing.
Estoy comiendo. — I am eating.
Estamos escribiendo. — We are writing.
Notice that, as with the regular present tense, you don’t necessarily need your Spanish pronouns (yo, tú, etc.) for these sentences if it’s clear who you’re talking about.
3 Minor Irregularities in the Spanish Present Progressive
As usual with Spanish grammar rules, there are exceptions.
Fortunately, in the case of gerunds, they’re not too difficult, and the irregularities aren’t very different from the regular verbs. If you’re in a rush and don’t mind speaking clumsy Spanish, you could skip this section and probably still be understood.
1. Verbs with gerunds ending in –yendo
We saw one irregularity already in the introduction to this post, with the word leyendo (reading), which is from the verb leer (to read).
This –yendo ending is used when an –er or –ir verb’s stem ends in a vowel. Here are some other common examples of this:
creer ⇒ creyendo (believing)
atraer ⇒ atrayendo (attracting)
oír ⇒ oyendo (hearing)
huir ⇒ huyendo (escaping)
destruir ⇒ destruyendo (destroying)
The gerund for the verb ir (to go) is simply yendo.
2. Stem-changing verbs and their gerunds
Be wary of those -ir verbs whose stems change in the present tense! They’ll also undergo (different) spelling changes in the present progressive. The vowel E becomes I, and the vowel O becomes U.
I know that this is annoying, but these are very common and worth memorizing. And they’ll be useful to know for other things; you’ll notice that these stems undergo the same change in the preterite.
Here are some of the most common examples:
dormir ⇒ durmiendo (sleeping)
pedir ⇒ pidiendo (asking for)
decir ⇒ diciendo (saying)
sentir ⇒ sintiendo (feeling)
mentir ⇒ mintiendo (lying)
morir ⇒ muriendo (dying)
venir ⇒ viniendo (coming)
seguir ⇒ siguiendo (following)
The -er verb poder also follows this pattern and becomes pudiendo (being able to).
3. Spanish gerunds for stems ending in Ñ or LL
These are verbs that don’t come up often, but I’m including them here for completeness.
If the verb stem ends in Ñ or LL, –er and –ir verbs get the ending –endo. (The I in the usual -iendo ending has disappeared because its sound is already “contained” in the consonant Ñ or LL.) For example:
gruñir ⇒ gruñendo (to growl)
bullir ⇒ bullendo (to boil)
teñir ⇒ tiñendo (to dye)
When to Use the Present Progressive
The present progressive is used in Spanish to talk about actions that are going on right now, at the present moment, while the speaker is saying the sentence.
¡Mira! ¡El bebé está caminando! — Look! The baby is walking!
Moisés está trabajando en el jardín y no puede hablar contigo. — Moses is working in the garden (i.e., right now) and can’t talk to you.
No quiero salir porque está lloviendo. — I don’t want to go out because it’s raining (i.e., the rain is falling now, and I can see it if I look outside).
When Not to Use the Spanish Present Progressive
The worst thing about teaching the Spanish present progressive to English speakers is that they then start to use it—way, way too much. This is understandable, because English has a love affair with its gerunds, but keep in mind that present progressive usage in Spanish is much more limited.
The key is to keep in mind that, to use the present progressive in Spanish, one must be able to see the verb’s action actually happening right now. So, if you decide to say…
Estoy estudiando español. — I’m studying Spanish.
…you might have a Spanish textbook in your hand, and be glancing up at annoyance at someone who’s interrupting you.
If, on the other hand, you’re in a bar with a pisco sour in your hand, and trying to impress a cute Peruvian named Matilda with the fact that you’ve recently been learning (and will continue to learn) her language, you should use the regular present tense:
Estudio español. — I’m studying Spanish.
Notice that we could use the same sentence in both situations in English, but in Spanish the two sentences and their meanings are quite different.
Another problem for English speakers comes from the English use of its gerunds to talk about the immediate future. One does not use the present progressive in Spanish to talk about the future.
If you snag Matilda’s phone number and ask her out for salsa tomorrow, please, please, never report your success like this:
Mañana estoy bailando con Matilda.
Instead of using the present progressive, you can use the construction ir + a + infinitive to talk about the future:
Mañana voy a bailar con Matilda. — Tomorrow I’m going to dance with Matilda.
Then, when you’re actually whirling about the dance floor, you might fire off a text message to your buds using your lovely present progressive:
¡Estoy bailando con Matilda! — I’m dancing with Matilda!
And then, if Matilda has any sense at all, she’ll go off in search of someone who doesn’t text while dancing.
What are you doing right now?
What are those around you doing?
You should now have the verb forms you need to report this in Spanish, and be able to talk all about the present moment and what’s happening in it.
Mose Hayward writes about travel and languages, including the best gear for minimalist travelers and digital nomads.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.