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Present Participle and the Present Progressive

The Present Participle

The Present Participle (or “progressive” participle) is used less frequently in Spanish than in English, and due to its similarity to the “Gerund” in English, native speakers of English are prone to mis-use the present participle in Spanish. One often hears that the present participle is the -ing form of a verb, and while that is partially true, it would be better to say it is one of the -ing forms of the verb in English. The other -ing form of a verb in English is the Gerund (more about the Gerund later).

Let me put this out there now. Despite the many textbooks which confuse the Gerund and the present participle, using the terms almost interchangeably, the Gerund and the past participle are NOT the same thing, and they are not interchangeable. This is particulary important to remember when one studies Spanish.

Some examples of the present participle in English are:

  • to lift —> lifting
  • to rent —> renting
  • to sit —> sitting
  • to eat —> eating
  • to live —> living

In Spanish, it is often said that the present participle is the -ando or -iendo form of the verb. It is formed by replacing the -ar of the infintive with -ando, or the -er or -ir with -iendo. Thus:

  • levantar —> levantando
  • alquilar —> alquilando
  • sentar —> sentando
  • comer —> comiendo
  • vivir —> viviendo

The Present Progressive Indicative

In Spanish, the present participle is used primarily as part of a progressive tense structure, frequently with estar, but also with other verbs such as ir, venir, llegar, y salir. (You will occasionally see it used in adverbial clauses as well.) Thus:

  • Estoy sentando. —> I am sitting.
  • Estoy comiendo. —> I am eating.
  • Llego llevando regalos. —> I arrive bearing gifts.

Caution!

One important distinction between the way the present progressive is used in English vs. the way it is used in Spanish must be kept in mind. In Spanish, the use of the progressive tense, such as Estoy comiendo implies that the action is ongoing at that exact moment in time. Let me give you an example of this distinction.

Imagine you’re having dinner with your family and your friend calls. When you answer the phone, he asks,

What are you doing?

In English you might respond:

I am eating., or, I’m eating

This is perfectly normal and correct usage in English.

Now imagine the same scenario in Spanish. You’re having dinner when your friend calls and asks:

¿Qué haces?

You might respond:

Como, or, Ceno

You would never respond Estoy comiendo because in fact you are not eating at that very moment, but rather, you are talking on the phone. Notice too, that even the question your friend asks is not in the progressive tense, but rather the simple present indicative. Ie, not “what are you doing?” but rather, “What do you do?”

This difference in usage results in the overuse of the progressive tense in Spanish by English speakers, and it’s a dead giveaway that you’re an American. Try to avoid this trap! Some common mistakes are:

  • Estoy estudiando inglés, español y química. instead of the correct Estudio inglés, español y química.
  • Estoy viviendo en Madrid. instead of the correct “Vivo en Madrid.”

About the Gerund

OK, so what’s the deal with the Gerund? The Gerund, by definition, is the NOUN form of a verb. In English it is frequently found as the subject of a sentence, and it looks identical to the present participle. Eg.,

  • to run —> running —> Running is a great form of exercise.
  • to eat —> eating —> Eating well is healthy.

In Spanish, the Gerund is NOT identical to the -ando/-iendo present participle form of the verb, but rather, it is identical to the INFINITIVE form. Thus:

  • correr —> el correr —> El correr es una buena forma de ejercicio.
  • comer —> el comer —> El comer bien es sano.

If you were to substitute the present participle in the above examples, the resulting sentence would be nearly unintelligible to a native speaker of Spanish. At best it would make you sound goofy! Be careful! And be very suspect of any textbook or reference that tells you that the Gerund and the present participle are the same in Spanish!