present progressive spanish

The Spanish Present Progressive: How to Conjugate it and When to Use it

You use the Spanish present progressive to talk about what you’re doing right now.

For example, if you wanted to say, “I’m reading a very interesting article” in Spanish that would be “Estoy leyendo un artículo muy interesante.”

The biggest problem for English-speaking learners of Spanish with the present progressive is actually the tendency to overuse it. 

We’ll look at how to form the tense, when to use it and when not to use it.

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How to Form the Spanish Present Progressive in 3 Steps

The Spanish present progressive is formed by combining a conjugated version of estar (to be) with a present progressive gerund of the main verb.

Let’s go through how this works, step by step.

1. Conjugate estar in the present tense

To form the present tense, you’re first going to need the present tense of estar (to be).

How you conjugate it depends on who is performing the action:

yo estoyI am
tú estásyou are
él/ella/usted estáhe is/she is/you (formal) are
nosotros/as estamoswe are
vosotros/as estáisyou are (informal plural, Spain only)
ellos/ellas/ustedes estánthey are, you (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 English verbs with the -ing ending tacked on.

Unlike with the auxilary verb estar, this Spanish verb form is not conjugated according to who is performing an action.

Instead, there are two different present progressive endings for regular verbs.

For verbs ending in –ar:

Take off the –ar ending and add –ando.

Example:

bailar (to dance) ⇒ bail– ⇒ bailando (dancing)

For verbs ending in –er or –ir:

Take off the -er or -ir ending and add iendo.

Examples:

comer (to eat) ⇒ com– ⇒ comiendo (eating)

escribir (to write) ⇒ escrib– ⇒ escribiendo (writing)

3. Put the conjugated estar and second verb together

Put together the 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.

As with the regular present tense, you don’t necessarily need to use pronouns (yo, , etc.) for these sentences if it’s clear who you’re talking about.

Three Irregular Forms of the Spanish Present Progressive

As usual with Spanish grammar rules, there are exceptions.

Fortunately, in the case of gerunds, the irregular verbs aren’t very different from the regular verbs.

1. Verbs with gerunds ending in –yendo

We’ve already seen one irregular verb in the introduction to this post: leyendo (reading), which is from the verb leer (to read).

Thisyendo 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  atrayendoattracting
oír oyendo hearing
huir huyendo escaping
destruir destruyendodestroying

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!

The stems of these verbs also undergo (different) spelling changes in the present progressive. The vowel e becomes i, and the vowel o becomes u.

These forms are very common and worth memorizing. And you’ll notice that these stems undergo the same change in the preterite.

Here are some of the most common examples:

dormir durmiendosleeping
pedir pidiendoasking for
decir diciendosaying
sentir sintiendofeeling
mentir mintiendolying
morir muriendodying
venir viniendocoming
seguir siguiendofollowing

The -er verb poder also follows this pattern and becomes pudiendo (being able to).

3. Spanish gerunds for stems ending in ñ or ll

If the verb stem ends in ñ or ll, then –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 gruñendoto growl
bullir bullendoto boil
teñir tiñendoto 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).

Don’t worry if you aren’t certain exactly how to use this form right away.

Understanding when to use Spanish present progressive is something that will get easier the more you read and listen to the language.

If you don’t have a way to regularly hear and interact with Spanish speech, you could even just watch videos in Spanish. This form comes up in everyday speech fairly often.

If you wanted a more targeted approach, you could use a language learning program like FluentU to get exposure to Spanish grammar concepts as they’re used in the context of native media like cartoons, music videos and news clips.

The clips on FluentU can be searched by key words and grammatical concepts, so you can specifically watch videos that include the present progressive form.

And the videos have interactive captions that let you mouse over to see the meanings of words without exiting the video.

The program also includes personalized quizzes and customizable flashcard decks to help you review the specific verbs and concepts that you’re focused on learning.

When you hear how the present progressive works in practice, you’ll start to get a stronger sense of how these rules are implemented in everyday speech.

When Not to Use the Spanish Present Progressive

The trickiest thing about learning the Spanish present progressive as an English speaker is that you’ll want to use it way too much—even when it’s not correct.

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.

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.

But on the other hand, if you’re in a bar trying to impress a Spanish speaker with the fact that you’ve recently been learning (and will continue to learn) their 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 have a date to go dancing the next day, never talk about it 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 text your friends using the 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. This way, you can talk all about the present moment and what’s happening in it.

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