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Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish

Verbal periphrasis in Spanish are, according to the Real Academia Española, a pluriverbal expression whose meaning is partially assimilated to that of a unit. In other words, they are groups of verbs (usually two) that offer nuances of aspect and modality to verbal actions. These constructions are used because the regular conjugation does not offer those meanings.

Mastering the use of these periphrasis provides the student with a greater variety of options to express himself in a more natural and precise way. Consequently, it increases their language level, in the same way that it increases if an English learner uses phrasal verbs correctly. Let’s see how verbal periphrasis in Spanish are formed.

How are Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish Formed?

As we pointed out above, we are dealing with a verb group. It is the union of more than one verb (usually two) that function as one.

The first one has the function of a conjugated auxiliary verb and loses its literal meaning (for example: ir, tener, dejar); on the other hand, the second one is a non-personal form (not conjugated): infinitive (comer), gerund (comiendo) or participle (comido). This second verb is the one that brings meaning to the sentence.

Between the two verbs there can be a preposition (ir a + infinitive) or a conjunction (tener que + infinitive).

  • Acabo de comprarme un vestido nuevo
  • El sábado tengo que ir a la fiesta de mi mejor amiga
  • El Real Madrid está ganando el partido
  • Aún sigue lloviendo. ¡Qué rabia!
  • Dejó dicho que le enterrásemos junto al Mar Mediterráneo

What is a verbal periphrasis useful for?

Regarding the usefulness of verbal periphrasis in Spanish, we can say that they provide nuances (more information) that simple or compound verb forms lack. They can express an obligation, a doubt, the beginning or the end of the verbal action, the frequency or repetition of the action… For all these reasons, these verb groups enrich our language and provide us with a greater ability to communicate.

Let’s look at this example:

Acabo de decírselo a mi hermana.

With the periphrasis acabar de + infinitive I can specify that I have told my sister just now.

Se lo digo a  mi hermana / Se lo he dicho a mi hermana / Se lo dije a ella

However, if we opt for these simple and compound forms of verbs, they do not allow us to be so precise in our statement.



What types of Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish do we have?

In order to study the typology of verbal periphrasis in Spanish, we have decided to classify them according to the non-personal form of the auxiliary verb: infinitives, gerunds and participles.

Periphrasis with Infinitive

In this group, we have periphrasis that can express obligation, doubt, beginning of an action, frequency, repetition and end of an action.

1. They express obligation or necessity

They indicate who has the obligation or need for the verbal action:

  • Haber de + infinitive: He de cortar el césped (Yo)
  • Tener que + infinitive: Tienes que estudiar matemáticas (Tú)
  • Deber + Infinitive: Debe acudir a la fiesta de la abuela (Mi hermana)

It is not indicated who has the obligation or need:

  • Haber que + Infinitive: Hay que comer mucha fruta y verdura para tener buena salud. (Es necesario, en general)

2. They express doubt, probability or insecurity

  • Deber de + infinitive: Debe de tener cincuenta años.
  • Poder + infinitive: Puede llover esta tarde.

3. They indicate that an action is about to begin or that it occurs suddenly

  • Echarse a + infinitive: Se echó a reír sin motivo.
  • Ponerse a + infinitive: Se puso a dar saltos de alegría.
  • Romper a + infinitive: Rompió a llorar sin motivo.
  • Ir a + infinitive: Carlos va a hablar en la iglesia.

We also use ir a + infinitive to:

a) To speak about a future event as the logical result of what we know in the present.

  • El tren tiene un problema mecánico. Va a salir con retraso (It’s evident)
  • No comas tanto. Vas a ponerte enfermo (It’s logical)

b) To report decisions or plans or to inquire about others’ intentions, decisions and plans:

  • Álvaro va a ir a la fiesta de María.
  • El año que viene voy a estudiar más.
  • ¿Qué vas a hacer este fin de semana?

4. It expresses a habitual action

  • Soler + infinitive: Ana suele venir aquí después del trabajo.

5. It expresses repetition of an action

  • Volver a + infinitive: Mi madre volvió a pedir con insistencia su regalo.

6. They indicate that an action has finished, its culmination or its interruption

  • Acabar de + infinitive: Acabo de realizar los trabajos que me encargaron.
  • Llegar a + infinitive: Mi padre llegó a tener mucho dinero.
  • Dejar de + infinitive: Miguel ha dejado de fumar por motivos de salud.

Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish with Gerunds

This group of verbal periphrasis in Spanish expresses actions in process and momentary actions.

1. They indicate an action in progress

  • Seguir + gerund = Aún sigue lloviendo.
  • Llevar + gerund = Llevo pensándolo desde ayer.
  • Continuar + gerund = Continúo estudiando inglés todas las tardes.
  • Estar + gerund = Miguel está trabajando mucho esta semana.

2. They indicate momentary situations

  • Estar + gerund = El bebé está llorando.

Periphrasis with participle

In relation to verbal periphrasis in Spanish with participle, we can indicate that they present a finished action, as a consequence of a previous or repeated action in the past.

  • Llevar + participle = La chica del concurso lleva ganados muchos premios.
  • Dejar + participle = Dejó arruinados a sus socios.
  • Tener + participle = Tengo escrita la mitad de mi novela.
  • Estar + participle = El proyecto está completado.
  • Quedar + participle = La sentencia quedó visto para sentencia.

As you can see, verbal periphrasis in Spanish is a very extensive topic for which students often need help from an expert teacher. If you want to go deeper into them, don’t hesitate to reserve a Spanish class here. If you would like to take a trial lesson beforehand, we will be glad to help you.