Did you know that you can give orders, descriptions and exclamations all with the same word in Spanish?
(You can also do a whole lot more, by the way.)
What is that fantastic word? The gerund.
Yeah, the gerund is going to make your life a whole lot easier.
Once you get the hang of it, you’re going to be throwing gerunds around like the dollar bills you don’t have.
Most likely you already know a little about gerunds, the –iendo or –ando form of verbs (corriendo, andando). You may already have a pretty good grasp on them. That’s great! I hope you do. And if you do, you’re ready to start using gerunds in all sorts of different situations.
You see, learning the gerund is kind of like using a hammer. You can use a hammer to knock a bunch of nails into a plank, and that’ll be great. But you can also use a hammer to remove nails. Gerunds are much the same. Primarily they’re used in progressive constructions (estoy comiendo), but they can also be used to express a number of other ideas.
By learning the other uses of the gerund, you’ll be sure that instead of a board with a whole bunch of nails sticking out of it, you’ll have a house. (Don’t think building a house is a good way to learn Spanish? Check this out.)
So, what’s a gerund?
The gerund is a verb form that expresses continuous action, or an action that’s currently happening. It’s equivalent to the –ing form of a verb in English.
Estoy cenando. (I am eating dinner.)
It’s formed by dropping the infinitive ending of a verb and adding –ando for –ar verbs and –iendo for –er and –ir verbs.
Of course, what fun would it be if there were no exceptions to the rule? Several verbs, those that end in two vowels, take –yendo to form the gerund.
And then there are the real funky ones, the stem-changers, that don’t really follow any easy rule and you just have to learn.
8 Handy Uses That’ll Make Spanish Gerunds Your New Best Friends
So you’ve got gerund construction down flat. Word.
Now how do you use them? Here’s a quick overview for those of you who don’t know and a review for those who do.
2 Typical Spanish Gerund Uses
The gerund in progressive constructions
In the progressive tenses the gerund is almost always paired with the verb estar to express an action in motion. In the present, it’s something that’s currently happening, right now, at this moment.
Ronaldo está quejándose. (Ronaldo is complaining.)
Javier Bardem me está seduciendo. (Javier Bardem is seducing me.)
The progressive construction can be paired up with just about any verb tense. Just remember that it means that the action is/was/will be continuously happening.
Things can get pretty complex quickly, but don’t worry, we’re not here to learn all the progressive tenses. Remember that the progressive tenses aren’t used with venir, ir and estar. So no double estar. Here’s an example of each progressive construction:
Past progressive: Estuve trabajando como espía en Rusia por diez años. (I was working as a spy in Russia for ten years.)
Present perfect continuous: Hemos estado hablando y decidimos que tu blusa es fea. (We’ve been talking and we decided that your blouse is ugly.)
Future perfect continuous: Elena habrá estado saliendo con Juan por cinco meses en junio. (In June, Elena will have been dating Juan for five months2.)
Pluperfect subjunctive: Si hubieras estado prestando atención en la prepa, esto ya lo habrías sabido. (If you had been paying attention in high school, you would have already known this.)
The gerund with ir, andar and venir
Ok, now the good stuff. You can also use the gerund with ir.
Why would you want to do this? Well, because it’s cool for starters, and you’ll sound like a native.
But also because it expresses a little more emotion, often surprise or confusion. In addition, you can use it to express actions that are gradually unfolding over time.
¿Quién va conduciendo el tren? (Who’s driving this train?!)
Poco a poco Ricardo fue convirtiéndose en todo un hombre. (Little by little, Ricardo was becoming a man.)
You can also use the gerund with andar and venir. Using one of these verbs will add the idea of a repeated or insistent action to your sentence.
Roberto viene buscando chicas para conquistar. (Roberto is looking to pick up chicks.)
España anda siempre aguantando millones de huelgas. (Spain is always putting up with tons of strikes.)
6 Fresh Ways to Use the Independent Gerund All on its Own
Ok, so now that you’ve got the basics of using a gerund mastered, I’m going to make it all a lot easier for you: you don’t always need to use a main verb.
There are a number of instances when you can use the gerund all by its lonesome without even worrying about estar or having to conjugate anything.
To express an action in motion
Just like we just learned, the gerund is used to express that something is in the process of happening. Only this time, you don’t need the main verb.
And here’s the best thing: it can refer to the present, past or future. So long, conjugations!
¿Qué haces? –Nada, relajándome un poquito. (What are you doing? Nothing, relaxing a bit.)
¿Y Paz? ¿Qué hacía? –Tomando un té. (And Paz? What was she doing? Drinking tea.)
To express how something has been achieved
Similar to the construction in English, by + -ing, you can use the Spanish gerund to describe how something is done or carried out.
Viajando, conocí muchos países, mucha gente y a mi esposa. (By traveling, I got to know many countries, people and my wife.)
Comiendo mucho, me engordé. (By eating a lot, I got fat.)
You can use the independent gerund to describe pictures and situations.
Mi hijo, ganando el premio Nobel. (My son, winning the Nobel Prize.)
¿Dónde está la escuela? –Saliendo del metro a la izquierda. (Where’s the school? On the left when you get off the metro.)
As exclamations and interrogatives
Here’s a great use of the gerund that’ll make you sound like you really know your stuff. It’s easy too.
Use the gerund when you want to say that you think someone spends too much time doing one thing. Use this with expressions like siempre or otra vez.
¡Otra vez comiendo McDonalds! (Eating McDonalds again? (with all these delicious tapas around?))
¡De nuevo estudiando! (Studying again! (Get outside!))
Of course you want to learn how to be sarcastic in Spanish. You can use the independent gerund for situations in which it’s obvious what’s going on. You can ask questions that don’t require a response this way.
¿Qué? ¿Comiéndote mi tortilla? (Eating my tortilla, I see.)
To give orders
Could it be any easier than this? You can use the gerund to give orders.
¡Vamos a perder el bus! ¡Corriendo! (We’re going to miss the bus. Run!)
Nunca vas a terminar. Trabajando. (You’re never going to finish. Get to work.)
Although you can use the gerund in a whole bunch of awesome ways, there are a few things you should be careful (ojo) of as well. First, the gerund isn’t a noun like in English. In Spanish, you must use the infinitive form of the verb if you want the action to act as a noun.
Me gusta nadar. Nadar es divertido. (I like swimming. Swimming is fun.)
The gerund isn’t an adjective either in Spanish. Instead, use a past participle or restructure the sentence.
Los niños que griten serán premiados con una visita al director. (Screaming children will be rewarded with a trip to the principal.)
Resources to practice Spanish gerunds
Now that you know all these new and fabulous ways that gerunds are going to make your life easier, it’s time to put them to practice!
Bowdoin College has some great exercises to practice forming regular and irregular gerunds. It also offers you a bunch of practice exercises about choosing the gerund or the infinitive.
Lingolía has a few practice exercises that’ll help you identify when to use the gerund or the past participle and a great review of their various uses.
Now you know what to do.
Use gerunds to give orders!
Use them to describe situations!
Go crazy and use them without the main verb! Heaven forbid!
Just get out there and use your gerunds!
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