As a general rule, the Spanish gerund the verb form that ends in -ando or -iendo is best thought of as something that functions as an adverb, working with estar or a few other verbs such as andar to form the progressive tenses. In this way, it is less flexible in usage than the English gerund (the "-ing" verb form), which frequently functions as a noun (as in "Seeing is believing") or an adjective (as in "sleeping giant").
However, there are situations where the Spanish gerund doesn't fit neatly into the normal rule, instead referring to action performed by a direct object. This can occur only with direct objects of certain types of verbs:
With verbs of perception: The most common way in which a gerund can describe the action of a direct object is when the main verb of the sentence is a verb of perception, especially ver. In other words, the gerund is used to describe what we see or otherwise perceive someone or something doing:
- Vi a mi madre hablando con un grupo de personas. I saw my mother speaking with a group of people.
- Es difícil cuando vemos a niños sufriendo como victimas de guerra. It is difficult when we see children suffering as victims of war.
- No oí el celular sonando. I didn't hear my cellphone ringing.
- Los televidentes de todo el mundo escucharon a Pavarotti cantando junto a estrellas como Sting y Bono. Television viewers worldwide heard Pavarotti singing with stars such as Sting and Bono.
With verbs of representation: A similar pattern can be followed with verbs that involve the making of an image (either literally or figuratively) of someone or something:
- El vídeo muestra a la estrella juvenil llorando en el piso. The video shows the young star crying on the floor.
- Me imagino a ella saltando y danzando entre flores. I imagine her jumping and dancing in the flowers.
- Una cámara de seguridad captó al joven arrojando una bolsa de basura por la ventana. A security camera captured the youth throwing a bag of garbage out the window.
Because of this usage, it is the norm for the gerund to be used in descriptions such as those found in photo captions. For example, a photo of two people eating could be labeled "Dos personas comiendo." It is also not uncommon to use the gerund in a similar way when referring to images: ABC tenía una foto de una egipcia gritando contra el régimen militar. ABC had a photo of an Egyptian shouting against the military regime.
With some verbs that show a change in relationship: A vaguely defined set of verbs that indicate a changed relationship between the actor in a sentence and the direct object can be used with a gerund describing the object:
- Lo dejamos pensando que no llovería ni haría frío. We left him thinking it wouldn't rain nor get cold.
- Encontraron al niño leyendo bajo la luz tenue de una vela. They found the boy reading by the dim light of a candle.
- Apresaron al ladrón huyendo con dos celulares robados. They caught the thief fleeing with two stolen cellphones.
References: Sample sentences in this lesson are adapted from a variety of sources including IntroduccionalBudismo.com, Santa Mar&iacue;a del Valle, FanFiction.net, 26Noticias, LastMusic.es, Intereconomía and DR7 Biciclieando.