The Spanish Present Progressive: How to Form it and When to Use it
We use the Spanish present progressive to talk about what we’re doing right now.
You form it by conjugating estar (to be) + the present progressive form of the verb. For example, if you wanted to say, “I’m reading” in Spanish, that would be “Estoy leyendo.”
But the biggest problem for English-speaking Spanish learners with the present progressive is actually the tendency to overuse it.
In this post, we’ll go over what the present progressive in Spanish is, how to conjugate it and when and when not to use it.
- How to Form the Spanish Present Progressive in 3 Steps
- 3 Irregular Forms of the Spanish Present Progressive
- When to Use the Present Progressive in Spanish
- When Not to Use the Present Progressive in Spanish
- And One More Thing…
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:
|He is/she is/you (formal) are
|You are (informal plural, Spain only)
|They 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.
For verbs ending in -er or -ir:
Take off the -er or -ir ending and add -iendo.
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!
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, tú, etc.) for these sentences if it’s clear who you’re talking about.
3 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).
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:
The gerund for the verb ir (to go) is simply yendo.
2. Stem-changing verbs and their gerunds
The stems of these “stem-changing verbs” 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:
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.)
When to Use the Present Progressive in Spanish
The Spanish present progressive is used to talk about actions that are going on right now. This means the action is taking place as you’re speaking.
Take a look at these examples:
¡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 Present Progressive in Spanish
The trickiest thing about learning the Spanish present progressive as an English speaker is that you’ll want to use it too much—even when it’s incorrect.
Here are a few situations where you shouldn’t use the present progressive:
- When the action isn’t happening right now. For example, saying “Estoy estudiando español” would imply that you have a Spanish textbook in hand or are currently flipping through flashcards.
- When you want to say you do something habitually. Going back to the previous example, if you want to tell someone you’re studying Spanish (but not at this very moment), you’d use the simple present tense: “Estudio español.”
- When talking about the immediate future. Another problem for English speakers is using gerunds to talk about the immediate future. But you do not use the present progressive in Spanish to discuss the future. Instead of saying “Mañana estoy bailando con Matilda” (Tomorrow I’m dancing with Matilda), you’d say “Mañana voy a bailar con Matilda” (Tomorrow I’m going to dance with Matilda).
Understanding when to use the Spanish present progressive will get easier the more you read and listen to the language.
For example, you could use a language learning program like FluentU to to learn Spanish grammar rules like the present progressive in context through Spanish videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
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.
And One More Thing…
If you've made it this far that means you probably enjoy learning Spanish with engaging material and will then love FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
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Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
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