1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Translating '-ing' Words

Part of Speech Is Key to Translating


Woman studying

Estudia hoy. (She is studying today.)

Photo by Universidad de Montevideo; licensed via Creative Commons.

When you see an English word ending in "-ing," you may be inclined to think of it as a verb form. Indeed that's often the case — but it can also be a noun, adjective or adverb. If you can tell what part of speech an "-ing" word is, you're well on your way to translating it to Spanish.

The rules for translating "-ing" words to Spanish are far from straightforward. What is important to remember is the first rule of translation: Translate for meaning rather than word for word. Often, "-ing" words can't be translated directly and require some recasting of the sentence they're in.

With that principle in mind, here are some of the most common ways of translating "-ing" words:

As a verb: If an "-ing" word is functioning as a verb, it is probably being used in a progressive tense. Sentences such as "I am studying" and "She was working" are examples of using a progressive tense. In Spanish, progressive tenses are formed in much the same way as in English, by using a form of estar ("to be") followed a gerund (the verb form ending in -ando or -endo). Keep in mind, however, that the progressive tenses are used more in English than in Spanish, so it may be more appropriate to use a simple tense instead. See how the following English sentences can be translated using either progressive or simple tenses:

  • She is studying today. Está estudiando hoy. Estudia hoy.
  • I wasn't driving a car downtown yesterday. Yo no estaba manejando un carro en el centro ayer. Yo no manejaba un carro en el centro ayer.
  • We will be dining in your honor. Estaremos comiendo en su honor. Vamos a comer en su honor. Comeremos en su honor.

As a noun: It is very common to translate "-ing" sentence subjects using the Spanish infinitive (the verb form ending in -ar, -er or -ir). However, sometimes there is a separate noun, not a word that is also a verb form, that can be used as well or instead. Sometimes, especially when the "-ing" word is the object of a verb, the sentence may need to be recast for translation.

  • Seeing is believing. Ver es creer.
  • Buying on the Internet is a simple process. Es un proceso simple el comprar por Internet.
  • Crying doesn't do any good. Llorar no sirve de nada.
  • Swimming is the most complete sport. La natación es el deporte mas completo. El nadar es el deporte mas completo.
  • The meeting in London ended without an agreement. La reunión acaba sin acuerdos.
  • They're fatter because of eating cheap food. Son más gordos por comer alimentos baratos.
  • I am thinking about attending a university in the United States. Pienso asistir a una universidad en Estados Unidos.
  • I prefer your living here. Prefiero que vivas aquí.

As an adjective: Sometimes, a verb has what is known as an adjectival present participle, a form ending in -ante or -ente that can be used to translate the English word. But where none exists, which is usually the case, some other adjective or clause must be used. It may be necessary to recast the sentence for direct translation.

  • "Soul" is another way of saying "person" or "living being." "Alma" es otra manera de decir "persona" o "ser viviente".
  • I can't hear the snoring man. No puedo oír el hombre que ronca.
  • I don't have her forwarding address. No tengo su nueva dirección para reenvío de correo.
  • She is a very loving person. Es una persona muy cariñosa.
  • There are many people wanting to earn more money. Hay mucha gente que quiera ganar más dinero.

As an adverb: The Spanish gerund can be used as an adverb much the same way it can be in English. (Note that many grammarians don't classify this an adverbial use in English, although it more clearly is so in Spanish.)

  • The princess went away singing because she felt happy. La princesa se fue cantando porque se sentía feliz.
  • He studied, thinking about her. Él estudiaba pensando en ella.

Untranslated terms: Although criticized by purists, many Spanish speakers have adopted a few English "-ing" words outright, making them Spanish nouns. Examples include jogging, marketing and camping. Note, however, that these words often change in meaning once they are adopted into the language. Camping, for example, can be synonymous with the English noun, but it also can mean a campground or campsite.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.