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The Complete Guide

Present Progressive in Spanish –
The Complete Guide

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If reading the words “present progressive” makes you want to run and hide, don’t panic — we’ve prepared a complete guide to the present progressive in Spanish to help you conjugate it and use it in many situations.

We totally understand — Spanish verbs can seem intimidating.

But you should that learning the present progressive Spanish form is actually relatively easy for English speakers. (A bit harder for German speakers who don’t have it!)

In English, there is a similar concept to the present progressive form called the present continuous.

And you know what else? The present progressive form in Spanish and the English present continuous are formed in very similar ways.

To talk about what you’re doing right now in English, you would say “I am learning” (verb “to be” + present participle). In Spanish, to express the same concept, you would say “estoy aprendiendo” (estar + present participle).

In that light, the Spanish present progressive doesn’t look too hard.

So let’s talk about how to form the present progressive tense in Spanish and when to use it (or when not to use it).

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Overview and Examples of the Present Progressive in Spanish

As discussed above, the present progressive tense in Spanish is how you say you are doing something right now, or are in the process of doing something.

Just as in English you’d say things like

  • I’m writing an article.
  • I’m thinking of quitting coffee.
  • I’m getting hungry.

In Spanish you’d use the present progressive to express these as:

  • Estoy escribiendo un articulo.
  • Estoy pensando en dejar de beber café.
  • Me está dando hambre.

Sentences using the present progressive can be about you, about someone else, or about an abstract entity like society.

But you should note that not all present continuous sentences in English translate to the present progressive form in Spanish. For example, if you say “I’m working for a high tech company” in English, you’d translate that with just the present tense in Spanish.

Below we’ll give detailed guides on how to form the present progressive, when to do so, when to avoid it, and give lots of examples along the way.

How to form the present progressive in Spanish

The present progressive (presente continuo) isn’t really a tense, but a periphrasis. This is just a fancy word to say that we need a conjugated auxiliary verb and a main verb in a non-personal form.

In this case, our auxiliary verb is going to be estar (“to be”) and our main verb is going to be in the form of the present participle (-ing form in English).

Let’s break it down.

1. Verb estar

Conjugating the verb estar is easy but crucial if you want your sentence to make sense.

The verb estar will give your listeners all the information they need about who you’re talking about and when the action is taking place.

We’re forming a present construction, so the only thing you have to do is to conjugate estar in the present indicative:

  • Yo estoy
  • Tú estás
  • Él/ella/usted está
  • Nosotros estamos
  • Vosotros estáis
  • Ellos/ustedes están

2. Present participle (a.k.a. gerundio)

As a general rule, we form the present participle or gerundio (-ing form) adding –ando or –iendo to the root form of the verb.

Spanish verbs belong to one of three groups depending on how their infinitive ends: –ar (amar, lavar), –er (comer, beber) or –ir (salir, vivir).

We form the past participle of all the verbs from the first group by simply removing the ending –ar and adding –ando instead:

  • Amar- amando
  • Lavar- lavando

And to create the present participle of the regular verbs from the other two groups we need to take off the –er and –ir endings and add –iendo:

  • Comer – comiendo
  • Vivir – viviendo

But we’re talking about Spanish, so you already know we’re going to find a few irregularities. They appear in some irregular verbs with –er and –ir endings, so let’s see how to tackle them.

1. Verbs with irregular roots where –e- becomes –i

A little trick to know if a verb is irregular is to conjugate it in the present indicative. If you come across a vocal change in the root of the verb, it’s irregular and you’ll probably need to change the root vowel in the present participle (there are a few exceptions you’ll have to learn, sorry!).

For those verbs with an –e– in the root that becomes –ie– or –i- in the present indicative, we know that the –e– will become an –i– in the present participle.

Too abstract? Look at these examples:

  • Venir – (present indicative: viene) – viniendo
  • Decir – (present indicative: dice) – diciendo

2. Verbs with irregular roots where –o- becomes –u-

You can do the same test of conjugating in the present indicative to know which verbs belong to this group of irregular present continuous verbs.

Simply conjugate any verb with –o- in the base form in the present indicative and if the vocal changes from –o– to –ue-, you’re looking at an irregular verb, which means that in your present participle the –o– will become –u-:

  • Poder – (present indicative: puedo) – pudiendo
  • Dormir – (present indicative: duermo) – durmiendo

3. Verbs where –iendo becomes –yendo

When we have a verb with a root ending in a vowel, instead of adding –iendo, we add –yendo. This is done so that the two vowels don’t clash.

  • Leer – (root: le-) – leyendo
  • Oír – (root: oi-) – oyendo

Maybe you’re wondering what to do with the verb ir (“to go”), as it, well, basically looks like the ending –ir we’re talking about. You follow this very rule, turn that “iendo” into yendo and ta-da!

However, in practise, the conjugation yendo is very rarely used colloquially. You don’t say “I’m going to the shops” with the present progressive — you say “voy a hacer compras” or “voy a la tienda”. Or “I’m going!” is “Me voy!”.

4. Verbs with er and ir endings with –ñ- and –ll-

When verbs end in ller, llir, ñer or ñir, they adopt the ending –endo, not –iendo.

Why? Because phonetically, it doesn’t make sense to put a –i– after these consonants ll or ñ.

For example:

  • gruñir (to growl) – gruñendo
  • tañer (to ring a bell) – tañendo
  • zambullir (to plunge) – zambullendo

There are words with roots ending in –ll- or –ñ– from the –ar group. Those keep the –ando ending:

  • Tallar (to carve) – tallando
  • Enseñar (to teach) – enseñando

Detail point — Using the present progressive in Spanish with reflexive verbs

One important detail is how to use the present progressive tense with reflexive verbs.

Reflexive verbs are those in Spanish where the verb is acting reflexively, i.e. on the same thing. In English you express similar sentiments by saying “itself” or “getting/becoming”.

When you use a reflexive verb in the present progressive tense, you place estar between the reflexive pronoun and the gerund.

A few examples of present continous Spanish reflexive verbs are below.

  • El tiempo se está mejorando últimamente. — The weather is getting better lately.
  • Bueno, esto se está poniendo interesante. Well, this is getting interesting.
  • Con tantos ejemplos me estoy confundiendo — With so many examples, I’m getting confused.

When should you use present progressive

We use it to talk about actions that are taking place right now, this very moment, as you read this sentence.

This is a verbal form that will come in handy if you like living in the present:

  • Estoy meditando – I am meditating (i.e. I am meditating right now and you are interrupting me)
  • Están haciendo una tortilla – They are making a Spanish omelette (i.e. they are in the kitchen right now and I can smell it)

You can also use the present progressive in Spanish, just as you do in English, when you’re talking about progress or a developing action. This still communicates the idea that something is happening now, but it’s more of an ongoing process over time.

  •  Las cosas están cambiando en la oficina – Things are changing at the office (i.e. we’re chatting with coworkers in the bar and we’re not actively doing anything at the office as we speak, but our company in the midst of a big change)

Finally, you can use the present progressive to talk about an abstract concept. A few examples of these are above in the section on reflexive verbs.

When to avoid using the present progressive

As you see, it’s true that sometimes you can use the Spanish present progressive and the English present continuous in the same situations, but this isn’t always the case. Consider yourself warned.

The most problematic situations are two:

1. Discussing “what you do”.

In English, you use the present continuous to talk about an action that started in the past, is still taking place now and will extend into the future. You would say:

  • I am working for an IT company in Madrid
  • He is studying Spanish literature in Chile

But in Spanish we use the present simple for this kind of sentences:

  • Trabajo para una empresa de informática en Madrid
  • Estudia literatura española en Chile

If you used the present progressive Spanish form in these cases, the sentences would have a different meaning. For example, “está estudiando literatura española” would mean that he’s sitting in front of his books studying as you speak.

2. Discussing future plans.

In English, you use the present continuous to talk about future plans. This is a trap that many English speakers fall into, but it’s actually illegal to make a future construction using the present progressive in Spanish, trust us.

So if you want to brag about your upcoming beach holidays, don’t do it using the present progressive, use the construction voy a + infinitive instead:

  • Voy a pasar una semana en Ibiza – I am spending a week in Ibiza (i.e. I am planning to spend a week in Ibiza)

Using the present progressive here (estoy pasando una semana en Ibiza) would mean that you’re sunbathing by the Mediterranean and sipping on your sangría right now.

Present progressive Spanish examples

You’re already an expert at this, but let’s go over a few more complex examples to see how this form behaves in negative and interrogative sentences.

The following are a few real-life examples you’re likely to encounter.

Closed interrogatives

¿Está haciendo el exámen ahora mismo? – Is he taking the test right now?

Using the present progressive in yes/no questions is pretty straightforward. You just need to add the opening and closing question marks and the interrogative intonation when you speak – otherwise, this would be a perfectly correct affirmative sentence.

If you wanted to make it negative, it would be as easy as adding “no” (or any other negative particle such as nunca, nadie o ninguno) right before the periphrasis:

¿No está haciendo el exámen? – Isn’t he taking the test?

Open interrogatives

¿Qué estáis haciendo? – What are you doing?

You can use this construction for any other interrogative particle like dónde, cómo, cuándo or quién.

¿De quién estáis hablando? – Who are you talking about?

Negatives

No estamos hablando de Natalia, estamos hablando de Jaime – We’re not talking about Natalia, we’re talking about Jaime.

To make this sentence negative you just need to add a negative particle (no, nunca, nadie, ninguno,…) right before the periphrasis

Nadie está hablando de Natalia – Nobody is talking about Natalia

Conclusion

See? Just as we promised, the present progressive in Spanish is not that scary.

You just need to know how to conjugate the verb estar in present indicative and remember how to build the present participle.

Then, you put them together and use them only, exclusively, to talk about ongoing actions in the present.

Now go text your Spanish-speaking friends:

¿Qué estáis haciendo? ¡Yo ahora mismo estoy practicando el presente continuo! (What are you doing? Right now I’m practicing the present progressive!).

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