Present Progressive: Ongoing Tasks and Exceptions to the Rules

Present Progressive

There are several ways to speak in the present tense in Spanish, but one of the most common ways is by using the present progressive tense. The same tense is used commonly in English as well, and it is used to describe an action that is ongoing, or has not yet been completed. In short, this is the difference between saying “I run” and “I am running”. The latter implies that the action has not yet been completed, and is still happening.

Luckily the present progressive is used in a similar way in both English and Spanish, and as such is easily understood by English speakers looking to learn Spanish. The present progressive tense is both used in similar situations as well as constructed in a similar manner in both languages.

There is one small exception to the similarities, which is that in English, the present progressive can be used to describe something that is happening in the near future in addition to describing an ongoing action. For example, if some asks “what are you doing tonight” an appropriate answer in English would be “I am studying with Bob”. In Spanish, this is not the case, and this verb tense is only used to describe actions that are currently ongoing.

In this article we will discuss how to construct present progressive phrases in Spanish using the verb estar and present participle, how to identify the correct verb stem to use, and the many irregular verbs to watch out for.

Using Present Progressive Tense in Spanish

Constructing a phrase in present progressive is relatively simple, but requires the conjugation and use of two verbs. Firstly, the present progressive uses the “estar”, which translates directly to English as “to be”. “To be” is the same verb used to form present progressive in English. In short, to form present progressive just follow this format: To be (estar) + Verb in present participle form.

The first step in using the present progressive tense correctly is to be able to correctly conjugate the verb estar. The appropriate conjugations for estar are as follows:

Yo Estoy (I am)

Tu Estás (You are)

El/Ella Está (He / She is)

Nosotros Estamos (We are)

Vos/Vosotros Estáis (Informal you are) **

Ellos/Ellas Están (They are)

** Vosotros is rarely used in Latin American Spanish, and is more common among Spanish speakers from Spain.

The second part of using the present progressive tense in Spanish is adding the present participle to the properly conjugated form of estar. What is the present participle? Well, in English these are the verbs that end in “-ing”, such as “writing” or “driving”, which gets added to “I am” to make the present progressive phrase “I am writing” or “you are driving” in English. In Spanish, if the unconjugated verb ends in –ar, then the present participle form adds -ando to the verb stem, and if the verb ends in -er or -ir, then -iendo is added.

For example, if I wanted to say “I am eating”, the verb comer (to eat), ending in an -er, becomes comiendo, “estoy comiendo” (I am eating). If I wanted to say “You are speaking”, the verb hablar (to speak), ending in -ar becomes hablando, “estas hablando” (you are speaking). Both estar and the present participle verbs must be present to be correct, for example, comiendo is not correct on its own.

To sum up:

(To eat) Comer – er + iendo = comiendo

(To speak) hablar – ar + ando = hablando

(To live) vivir – ir + iendo = viviendo

Identifying the Correct Verb Stem

Identifying the appropriate verb stem on which to add the “-iendo” or “-ando” ending is in theory very simple. The basic rule is to simply drop the -ar, -er or -ir and add -iendo or -ando. For example, cerrar (to close) becomes cerr-ando, perder (to lose) becomes perdiendo and escribir (to write) becomes escrib-iendo.

Verbs ending in -ir function slightly differently when attempting to identify the correct way to conjugate a verb tense. When attempting to conjugate verbs that end in “-ir”, it is important to note that an O in the verb stem will become U, and an E will become I. Verbs that end in -ir but with neither O nor E in the verb stem follow the same structure as regular verbs ending in -er and -ar.

For example:

(To laugh) Reir → Riendo, here the first “e” changes to an “i” in the conjugated format.

(To sleep) Dormir → Durmiendo, in this instance the first “o” changes to a “u” in this case.

(To write) Escribir Escribiendo, this verb follows the same structure of -er and -ar verbs as there is no O or E in the verb stem.

Other Exceptions and Irregularities to Present Progressive Rules

Present Progressive sounds relatively simple to use when you look at the rules previously laid out, and it is, for the most part. The problem lies in the exceptions to these rules, and this is where the majority of mistakes are made. For example, there are situations where a “y” is added in order to maintain the agreement between orthography and pronunciation. Here are some examples:

(To read) leer → leyendo,

(To bring) traer → trayendo

(To influence) influir → influyendo

Additionally, there are some verbs that, while they end in -er, follow the verb stem change rules of -ir verbs. Most notable, the verb poder (I can, or I am able) becomes pudiendo, where the O → U.

As you can see, there are many opportunities to make mistakes when trying to communicate even simple, present tense messages. This is why it is of the utmost importance that businesses use a professional Spanish translation and copy editing service for any translating needs, even if you or someone you know thinks it’s a simple, easily translatable sentence. Spanish with Style hires only fully qualified translation professionals who can guarantee your message is being translated clearly, concisely and correctly. If you are looking to reach across language boundaries to spread your message, leave the translation up to the Spanish language experts.