As you may have already learned in the lesson on the present tense, you usually say something like "I am speaking" in Spanish in the same way as you say "I speak": hablo. Similarly, you can say "he is eating" in the same way as you say "he eats": come.
However, Spanish does have a way of specifically saying verbs such as "eating" and "speaking," although they are used less often than in English. The verb forms that are the equivalent of the "-ing" form in English are known as present participles or gerunds. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that while the Spanish present participle is roughly the equivalent of the "-ing" form in English, there are significant differences in the way it is used.
The Spanish present participle of regular verbs is formed by removing the -ar ending and replacing it with -ando, or by removing the -er or -ir ending and replacing it with -iendo. Here are examples of each of the verb types:
- hablar (to speak) — hablando (speaking)
- beber (to drink) — bebiendo (drinking)
- vivir (to live) — viviendo (living)
The verbs that have irregular present participles still use the same -ando and -iendo endings, but they have changes in the stems. For example, the present participle of venir (to come) is viniendo (coming), and the present participle of decir (to say) is diciendo (saying). To prevent awkward spellings, a few verbs use a -yendo ending in the participle instead of -iendo. For example, the present participle of leer (to read) is leyendo (reading).
As a beginning Spanish student, the way you are most likely to use the present participle is with the verb estar (to be) to form what is known as the present progressive tense. Here are some examples of that usage: Estoy estudiando. (I am studying.) Está lavando la ropa. (He is washing the clothing.) Estamos comiendo el desayuno. (We are eating breakfast.) The present participle can also be used with other tenses of estar to indicate past and future action.
Here is the present-tense indicative conjugation of estar combined with a sample present participle to form the present progressive tense:
- yo — Estoy escribiendo. — I am writing.
- tú — Estás escribiendo. — You are writing.
- él, ella, usted — Está escribiendo. — He/she/you is/is/are writing.
- nosotros, nosotras — Estamos escribiendo. — We are writing.
- Vosotros, vosotras — Estáis escribiendo. — You are writing.
- ellos, ellas, ustedes — Están escribiendo. — They/you are writing.
The same can be done with other tenses and moods. Although it isn't necessary to learn these yet if you're a beginner, here are some examples to demonstrate the concept:
- Estaré escribiendo. — I will be writing.
- Espero que esté escribiendo. — I hope you're writing.
- Estaba escribiendo. — I/you/he/she was/were writing.
The progressive tenses are used less in Spanish than they are in English. As a general rule, they place an emphasis on the continuing nature of the action. For example, the difference between "leo" and "estoy leyendo" is roughly the difference between "I am reading" and "I am in the process of reading." ("Leo" can also mean simply "I read," indicating a habitual action.)
One of the major differences between the present participles in English and Spanish is that while the English present participle can frequently be used as an adjective or a noun, in Spanish the present participle is nearly always used in conjunction with other verbs. Here are some examples of the present participle in use: Estoy pensando en ti. (I am thinking about you.) Anda buscando el tenedor. (He is walking around looking for the fork.) Sigue estudiando los libros. (She keeps on studying the books.) Haces bien estudiando mucho. (You're doing well by studying much.) At this stage, you do not need to analyze these sentences or understand the details of how the present participle is used. Note, however, that in all these examples the gerund is used to indicate some form of continuing action, and that it can be translated using an "-ing" verb (although it doesn't have to be).
Cases where you wouldn't use the Spanish participle to translate an "-ing" verb include instances where the English present participle is used as a noun or adjective. Note these examples: Ver es creer. (Seeing is believing.) Tiene un tigre que come hombres. (She has a man-eating tiger.) Hablar español es divertido. (Speaking Spanish is fun.) Me gusta comer. (I like eating.) Compré los zapatos de correr. (I bought the running shoes.)
Also note that while in English we can use the present progressive tense to refer to a future event (as in "We are leaving tomorrow"), that can't be done in Spanish. You must use either the simple present tense (salimos mañana) or a future tense (saldremos mañana or vamos a salir mañana).