The Present Tense in Spanish Part 2: Present Continuous
What are you doing right now? You’re reading this blog about Spanish conjugation, right? Maybe you’re also drinking water or coffee, or perhaps you’re petting your cat while you read.
When we talk about what we’re doing right now, in this exact moment, we use what’s called the present continuous tense. In Spanish, it’s called el presente progresivo or el presente continuo. While the names look similar, are the uses and conjugation the same in Spanish and English? Let’s find out!
The Present Continuous in Spanish
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the presente continuo, make sure you understand the basics of the present simple tense in Spanish. The present continuous is not quite as common as the present simple in Spanish, so it’s best to start with the present simple. Once you have the basics of that tense down, keep reading this page!
Uses of the Present Continuous in Spanish
Are you ready for some great news? ¿Sí? Well, the uses of the present continuous tense in Spanish are the same as in English! Let’s look at some examples of el presente continuo.
What are you doing? — ¿Qué estás haciendo?
I am reading this blog. — Yo estoy leyendo este blog.
We are watching a movie. — Nosotros estamos viendo una película.
All of these examples use the present continuous in both English and Spanish. If you look at the English sentences, you can see they all talk about things happening right now. El presente continuo projects that same idea in Spanish; we use it to refer to events currently happening. While you can only use the present continuous for such activities in English, the presente continuo and the presente simple are interchangeable in Spanish.
As a general rule, though, if you would use present continuous in English, use it in Spanish as well.
However, to be able to use el presente continuo, you need to understand the Spanish conjugation. Let’s check it out then!
Spanish Conjugation: Present Continuous
Reviewing the Basics in English
The Spanish conjugation of the present continuous is quite similar to the English form, which makes it one of the easier Spanish tenses. Let’s look at one of our previous examples:
“We are watching a movie.”
From this sentence, we can make a formula for the English form:
Pronoun + conjugation of “to be” + present participle
Let’s break it down a bit. When we use the word “conjugation” (in Spanish or English), we are referring to a form of the verb. In the case above, the possible conjugations of the verb “to be” are “am, is, and are,” which depend on what the subject is.
A present participle is basically a verb that ends in -ing. For example:
To summarize, the present continuous is a combination of one main verb and one helping verb. The main verb, or one that represents the principal action, is the verb ending in -ing. “To be” is a helper verb, or a verb that supports the main verb. It’s important to remember that “to be” changes with the different subjects, and the -ing verb always stays the same.
Applying the Basics to the Spanish Conjugation
Now that you understand the present continuous in English, it’s time to apply all of these words to rules to the Spanish conjugation. Ready? First, let’s rewrite the formula for the Spanish form of the present continuous. To do that, we need to find the Spanish equivalents for each part of the formula.
The first part is easy—pronouns are called pronombres. (To review the basics, visit our blog post on Spanish pronouns!) What do you think should replace the conjugation of the verb “to be”? Remember, two separate verbs mean “to be”: ser and estar. Which verb do you use for the present continuous? Because el presente continuo is a temporary action (it’s only for things we are doing right now), you must always use the verb estar. The last part of the formula is the present participle, which is called el participio presente. Therefore, the new formula would be:
Pronombre + conjugación del verbo “estar” + participio presente
See how similar the formulas are? The structure is the same! The only difference is that the pronoun in the Spanish conjugation is optional. Let’s explore even further!
Spanish Conjugation: estar
Similar to the English form, the only verb in the presente continuo that changes is “estar.” The main verb—the participio presente—always stays the same no matter the subject. Make sure you use the right form of estar with the chart below of the Spanish conjugations.
|Pronoun||Conjugation of Estar||English Translation|
|Él / ella||está||He/she is|
|Ustedes||están||You all are|
Spanish Conjugation: el participio presente
While the present participle of a verb never changes, three main types exist in Spanish. Do you remember how the present participle in English ends in “-ing”? In Spanish, the present participle endings differ depending on the type of verb: -ar, -er, or -ir. Let’s have a look.
|-AR Verbs||-ER Verbs||-IR Verbs|
Easy, right? There are several small exceptions, but nothing too complicated.
- Verbs that end in -eer (creer and leer) and the verb ir use the ending -yendo instead of -iendo.
Creer — creyendo
Leer — leyendo
Ir — yendo
- Some of the stem-changing verbs in the simple present tense also undergo a stem change in the present participle. For example, verbs like mentir, morir, and seguir all have slight vowel changes in the present simple as well as the present participle.
Mentir — mintiendo
Morir — muriendo
Seguir — siguiendo
Sentir — sintiendo
As you can see, these spelling changes do not affect the endings, and the pronunciation difference is often so subtle that you may not even notice it in spoken Spanish. Nevertheless, knowing these stem changes is imperative!
So, you’ve got all the parts to form the present continuous conjugation in Spanish. Once you have mastered the Spanish conjugation of estar and the present participles, it’s only a matter of putting them together to form the presente continuo. However, there is one more thing to keep in mind before you put this all into practice: how to correctly use the verb ir.
Yendo or Voy?
Interestingly, one verb is usually not used in the present continuous tense: ir. While grammatically a continuous form exists (estar yendo), it is much more common to use the present simple with the verb ir. Instead of saying estoy yendo a la tienda, it is much more common to say voy a la tienda in Latin America. This is one of those fun quirks in Spanish. There are many more to come!
Now that you have the Spanish conjugations of estar and the present participle forms, it’s time to combine them to form some phrases.
¿Qué estás haciendo? — What are you doing?
Yo estoy escribiendo. — I am writing.
Tú estás estudiando. — You are studying.
Nosotros estamos comiendo. — We are eating.
Do you think you are ready for some exercises on your own? Great! Try forming the following phrases in Spanish, then check your answers with the key below.
- They are drinking.
- He is cooking.
- We are feeling.
- You (tú) are thinking.
- I am reading.
Key: 1. Ellos están bebiendo. 2. Él está cocinando. 3. Estamos sintiendo. 4. Tú estás pensando. 5. Yo estoy leyendo.
How did you do with the exercise? To keep this information fresh in your mind and to ensure that you continue to be a master of the presente continuo, it’s important that you keep practicing. Try a free class with one of our amazing native-speaking Spanish teachers from Guatemala. They can answer any questions you may have, give you more practice with the irregular present participle forms, and improve your conversational skills. ¡Te estamos esperando!
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