The Present Continuous in Spanish: Estar + Gerund
The present continuous in Spanish (or present progressive) is not considered a verb tense in most Spanish grammars. In fact, according to specialists, it is a verbal periphrasis, that is, a group of words that work as a single verb. At A1 level it is too early to study these constructions. However, if you are curious to learn more, here you’ll find an article about verbal periphrases in Spanish.
Despite what was said above, we are going to use the term “the present continuous in Spanish” in this article to make it more familiar to speakers of other languages.
The form estar + gerund expresses an action that is in process at the moment of speech. But before going deeper into the uses of this construction, let’s see how the present continuous in Spanish in Spanish.
How Do We Form the Present Continuous in Spanish?
To form this periphrasis we must conjugate the present indicative of the verb estar and the gerund of another verb. The form of the verb estar gives us the information of the person, the number and the verb tense; on the other hand, the gerund of the other verb gives us the semantic meaning and the sense of “continuous action”.
The Gerund in Spanish
The gerund of Spanish verbs is formed by adding to the stem of a verb the endings –ando (verbs in –ar) and –iendo (verbs in -er / -ir).
However, there are also irregular gerunds in Spanish. You can consult this article if you want to know more about gerunds and their exceptions.
Conjugation for the Present Continuous in Spanish
Therefore, the conjugation for the present continuous in Spanish would be like this:
Placement of Pronouns in Reflexive Verbs
When we use reflexive verbs, we must take into account the order of placement of the pronouns. With the present continuous in Spanish we have two options:
- We can place the pronouns immediately before the verb estar.
Ahora no puedo abrir la puerta porque me estoy duchando.
- It is possible to place the pronouns together with the gerund, forming a single word. When this happens, the verb always has a tilde.
Ahora no puedo abrir la puerta porque estoy duchándome.
When Is Estar + Gerund used?
Let’s analyze the main uses of this verb periphrasis:
1. Action at the moment of speech
As we said before, the present continuous in Spanish is mainly used to express an action that takes place at the same moment we are speaking. We must, therefore, differentiate it from the present indicative, which expresses a habitual action.
¡Mira! Esos hombres están cantando en la calle = present continuous
Yo nunca canto en la calle = present indicative
We often use time expressions or other forms that make this difference clear. For example: ahora, ahora mismo, ¡mira!, en este momento…
2. Action in an active time period
Despite what was explained above, it is possible to use estar + gerund for an action, which, although it does not take place at this very moment, the speaker considers the time period to be active:
Tengo que comprar unos libros porque estoy estudiando en la universidad.
The speaker does not mean that he is studying right now, but this action does take place in an active period of his life.
3. Repetitive action
Although we generally use the present indicative to talk about habits, it is possible to use the present continuous in Spanish to emphasize a repeated habit:
Siempre estás pidiéndome dinero.
4. It does not express future
A common mistake among English speakers is the use of estar + gerund to talk about a future plan or intention. Although it is correct in other languages, Spanish has other options to express this concept. For example, the periphrasis ir + a + infinitive or the present indicative, if it is a very certain plan. Therefore, do not use estar + gerund with future value.
Mañana estoy viajando a Madrid para hacer el examen DELE.
Mañana voy a viajar / viajo a Madrid para hacer el examen DELE.