The Present and Imperfect Progressive

       

Although it's not really a "tense" in its own right, we occasionally use a verb form known as the "progressive." Progressive verb forms indicate that an action is ongoing or currently taking place. Progressives require a form of the verb "to be" and what's known as a "present participle." In English, a present participle is a verb form ending in "-ing."

I am studying.

In this example we see the two components we need: "am" is a form of "to be" and "studying" is the present participle. What about Spanish? Read on:

Present Participles

Note: Do not confuse present participles we use in progressive forms (like hablando and corriendo) with the past participles we use in perfect tenses (like hablado and corrido).

Let's looks at present participles first. Whereas in English we form present participles by using "-ing" endings, in Spanish we will add "-ando" to the stem of "-ar" verbs and "iendo" to the stem of both "-er" and "-ir" verbs.

infinitive:

ending:

present participle:

hablar

-ando

hablando

comer

-iendo

comiendo

vivir

-iendo

viviendo

There are (always) some exceptions, however…

Spelling Changes

If we follow the normal present participle procedure, certain verbs are going to be difficult to pronounce. Take "leer" for example. When we add "-iendo" to the stem, "le-," we end up with "leiendo." It's hard to know how to say this word because there are three vowels in the middle of it. To fix the three vowel problem, we take the "i" and replace it with a "y": "leyendo." This makes the word easier to pronounce. Most "-er" or "-ir" verbs whose stem ends in a vowel will require an "i → y" spelling change. Some common examples:

infinitive:

stem:

three vowels:

i→y spelling change:

caer

ca-

caiendo

cayendo

contribuir

contribu-

contribuiendo

contribuyendo

creer

cre-

creiendo

creyendo

leer

le-

leiendo

leyendo

incluir

inclu-

incluiendo

incluyendo

oír

o-

oiendo

oyendo

Note: By the way, the present participle of ir is "yendo."

The exception to the spelling change rule are "-guir" verbs. Take "distinguir." While the stem does end in a vowel ("distingu-"), here the "u" is not actually being pronounced. Its sole purpose is to keep the "g" from being pronounced like an "h" due to the vowel following it. Because of that, even though there are three vowels in a row, a spelling change is not necessary.

infinitive:

stem:

present participle:

distinguir

distingu-

distinguiendo

Another spelling change to consider is when the stem of an "-er" or "-ir" verb ends in "-ñ." The "ñ" already has a "y" sound built in so to speak, so adding "-iendo" isn't really necessary. You can get away with just "-endo":

infinitive:

stem:

present participle:

gruñir

gruñ-

gruñendo

Stem Changing "-ir" Verbs

Note: This only applies to verbs that are both stem changing and "-ir" verbs. Non-stem changing verbs are not affected, and neither are any "-ar" or "-er" verbs.

There is one other issue with present participles and that occurs with stem changing "-ir" verbs. In addition to the "o→ue," "e→ie," and "e→i" stem changes in their present tense conjugations, these verbs have stem changes in their present participle forms. They will either have an "o→u" stem change, or an "e→i" stem change. Some examples:

infinitive:

present tense:

present participle:

pedir

pido (e→i)

pidiendo (e→i)

servir

sirvo (e→i)

sirviendo (e→i)

sentir

siento (e→ie)

sintiendo (e→i)

mentir

miento (e→ie)

mintiendo (e→i)

dormir

duermo (o→ue)

durmiendo (o→u)

morir

muero (o→ue)

muriendo (o→u)

We've only talked about half of the equation so far, we still need to discuss the "to be." In Spanish, in all of our progressive forms, we'll be using the verb estar. Which tense should we use? That depends on what type of progressive form we want to use.

The Present Progressive

If the action we're referring to is happening now (in the present), we use the present progressive. To form the present progressive, simply use a present tense conjugation of estar with a present participle:

estoy

estamos

estás

estáis

está

están

+ present participle

Note: To form a negative negative, place the no in front of the form of estar: No estoy comiendo.

For example:

Estoy comiendo.
I am eating.

Estás leyendo.
You are reading.

Ellos están mirando la televisión.
They are watching television.

It's worth noting at this point that if you have an object pronoun of any sort (reflexive, direct, or indirect), you have two options as to where to put it. You may either put it in front of your conjugation of estar, or you may attach it to the end of your present participle. (Attaching an object pronoun will require adding an accent mark to preserve the original stress.) Either way is perfectly acceptable and your sentence will mean exactly the same thing.

Note: You cannot place the object pronoun in between estar and the present participle.

option 1:

option 2:

¡Ramón se está cayendo!

¡Ramón está cayéndose!

Yo lo estoy leyendo.

Yo estoy leyéndolo.

Mi abuela me la está dando.

Mi abuela está dándomela.

Let's practice! Conjugate present progressive verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Imperfect Progressive

If we want to refer to an action that was happening (at some point in the past), we use the imperfect progressive. As the name would imply, this time we'll use an imperfect tense conjugation of estar with a present participle:

estaba

estábamos

estabas

estabais

estaba

estaban

+ present participle

For example:

Ellos estaban estudiando.
They were studying.

Nosotros estábamos practicando futbol.
We were practicing soccer.

Ella le estaba mintiendo a la maestra.
She was lying to the teacher.

Let's practice! Conjugate imperfect progressive verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

Other Progressives

While the present and imperfect progressive forms are the most common, we're not limited to the present and the past. We can form progressives with any tense, such as the future, the conditional, or even the subjunctive.

Estaremos conduciendo.
We will be driving.

Yo estaría durmiendo.
I would be sleeping.

Espero que tú estés divirtiéndote.
I hope that you are having fun.

The Preterite Progressive

It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is also a "Preterite Progressive." The difference between the imperfect progressive and the preterite progressive is much the same as the difference between the imperfect and the preterite — a definitive time frame. Using the preterite progressive also emphasizes that the action was ongoing, but then stopped abruptly when interrupted. The preterite progressive is not very common.

Ayer estuvimos practicando hasta las tres.
We were practicing yesterday until three.

Estuve estudiando hasta que mi hermana llamó.
I was studying until my sister called.

Lo siento. ¿Estuviste leyendo?
I'm sorry. Were you reading?

Important Note

While in English we will often use the present progressive to refer to future events, we cannot do the same in Spanish. In Spanish, the present progressive is strictly used to talk about actions that are occurring at a particular point in time. To refer to actions about to occur, we can either use the present tense, the future tense, or the future progressive.

When are you leaving?

I am leaving at 3:00 this afternoon.

¿Cuándo sales tú?

Estoy saliendo a las tres de la tarde.
Salgo a las tres de la tarde.
Saldré a las tres de la tarde.
Estaré saliendo a las tres de la tarde.

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