Spanish Continuous Tense: What It Is And How It's Used
- Jada LòpezSpanish teacher, translator🎓 B.A., Translation and Interpreting English and Spanish, Universidad de Granada🎓 M.A., Formación de Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE), Universidad Pablo de Olavide
Passionate language teacher and translator. Wife, mother of 3 and amateur surfer.
Do you know how to use the continuous tense in Spanish?
Let’s say you’re in Spain or Latin America, and someone asks you ‘what you’re doing?’ in Spanish. If you want to answer them, you’ll need the Spanish continuous tense.
But what exactly is the Spanish continuous and when should we use it?
How do we conjugate verbs in the Spanish continuous tense and what are some examples of irregular continuous tense verbs?
Read on to find out.
What is the Spanish continuous tense?
The Spanish continuous tense is used to describe the action that you are carrying out right at this moment.
Think about the way we use -ing verbs in English.
For example, think of verbs in English like “eating”, “drinking” and “walking”. In Spanish, the continuous tense equivalent of these verbs is comiendo, bebiendo and andando, respectively.
How is the Spanish continuous different from the present simple?
The Spanish continuous tense is different from the present simple, since the Spanish present simple is normally used to describe habitual actions.
To really understand the difference, let’s take a look at an example of the present simple versus the Spanish continuous:
Bebo agua todos los días.
Estoy bebiendo agua.
Can you see how these two sentences have different meanings?
The first sentence is an habitual action that requires the present simple. It doesn’t mean that the speaker is currently drinking water, but we know that it’s a regular action that takes place every day.
The second sentence indicates that right now - at this moment - the speaker is drinking water.
Which formula is used to form the Spanish continuous tense?
Forming the Spanish continuous tense might seem a little bit daunting but, thankfully, there is a simpler way to understand it.
We can use the following formula to form the Spanish continuous tense:
(Subject pronoun) + (estar in the present tense) + (second verb in the present participle form).
Is the subject pronoun always required when forming the Spanish continuous?
In Spanish, the subject pronoun is not always required. When you’re speaking, you don’t have to separate out the pronoun and the verb like you would do in English.
In English, you might say I am eating. In Spanish you could say Yoestoy comiendo, however the YO is not required.
You’ll hear Spanish speakers saying estoy comiendo or estoy bebiendo because the conjugated verb estar already contains the pronoun that is the subject of the sentence.
If you want to emphasize who the subject of the sentence is, feel free to add the pronoun. It’s sort of like adding an italic formatting to the sentence and stressing which subject is doing the action.
How do we conjugate the Spanish continuous tense?
We conjugate the Spanish continuous tense using particular verb endings.
This means that verbs in their infinitive form must be altered – their endings must be removed and replaced with the right endings.
What’s also important is that when you form the Spanish continuous, we combine the conjugated verb with the verb estar.
Continue reading to find out more on this.
How do we conjugate the verb estar in the present simple?
The first thing to know when conjugating the verb estar in the present tense is that there are several subject pronouns you can use to make the subject of the sentence.
The table below contains all of the subject pronouns and their English translation:
|Spanish pronoun||English pronoun|
|El / Ella / usted||He / she|
|Ellos / Ellas / ustedes||They|
With these subject pronouns, you can now go a step further and conjugate the verb estar, which forms the first half of our formula for the Spanish continuous tense.
Here’s how to conjugate the verb estar in the present simple when forming the Spanish continuous tense:
|Spanish pronoun||Verb estar|
|El / ella / usted||Está|
|Ellos / ellas / ustedes||Están|
How to conjugate AR verbs in the Spanish continuous tense
You’ll next need to conjugate the second verb of the formula.
The second verb can belong to one of three groups that are regular in their form.
One group of infinitive verbs in Spanish is the AR group. These are verbs that end in AR.
Now, to conjugate these verbs in the Spanish continuous tense, we remove the AR and replace it with -ando. Let’s look at few examples to clarify:
- Caminar becomes caminando (meaning walking)
- Hablar becomes hablando (meaning speaking)
- Mirar becomes mirando (meaning looking)
- Escuchar becomes escuchando (meaning listening)
For example, if you wanted to say “we are looking”, you would use the conjugated AR verb mirando in your sentence.
Your sentence would also include the verb estar, which must be conjugated in the first person plural form estamos.
Here’s how the sentence would translate:
Nosotros estamos mirando.
Regardless of the personal pronoun you choose in your sentence, whether you choose to use nosotros, ellas, ellos or vosotros, the second AR verb always remains conjugated the same way.
You could say:
Ellos están mirando.
Vosotros estáis mirando.
Yo estoy mirando.
In each of these examples, mirando is conjugated the same way. It is the verb estar and the pronoun that changes the meaning of the sentence.
How to conjugate ER verbs in the Spanish continuous tense
Now let’s look at how to conjugate ER verbs in the Spanish continuous tense. To do it, remove the ER and replace it with -iendo.
Here are some examples of how to conjugate verbs that end in ER in the Spanish continuous tense:
- Beber becomes bebiendo (meaning drinking)
- Comer becomes comiendo (meaning eating)
- Hacer becomes haciendo (meaning doing / making)
- Correr becomes corriendo (meaning running)
For instance, if you wanted to say “we are running” you would use the conjugated verb corriendo in your sentence and combine this with the conjugated verb estar in the first person plural form.
This would give you the sentence:
Nosotros estamos corriendo / estamos corriendo.
Again, regardless of the subject of the sentence, the ER verb that you conjugate will remain the same.
You could say:
Ellos están corriendo.
Vosotros estáis corriendo.
Yo estoy corriendo.
The verb that changes the meaning of the sentence is estar and the personal pronoun that you use.
How to conjugate IR verbs in the Spanish continuous tense
Let’s now turn our attention to IR verbs when forming the continuous tense.
Now, IR verbs follow the same rule as ER verbs.
Simply remove the IR from the end of the infinitive IR verb and replace it with -iendo to give you the Spanish continuous tense.
- Vivir becomes viviendo (meaning living)
- Escribir becomes escribiendo (meaning writing)
- Abrir becomes abriendo (meaning opening)
- Subir becomes subiendo (meaning climbing / increasing)
So, if you wanted to say we are writing, you would use the conjugated verb escribiendo in your sentence and combine this with the first person plural present tense conjugated verb estar, giving you:
Nosotros estamos escribiendo / estamos escribiendo.
If you want to change the subject of the sentence, change the conjugation of the verb estar. For instance you might say:
Ellos están escribiendo.
Vosotros estáis escribiendo.
Yo estoy escribiendo.
Irregular verbs are exceptions: the verbs to watch out for
The rules above for conjugating the Spanish continuous tense apply to regular AR, ER and IR verbs whose stems in the infinitive form do not change when they’re conjugated.
However, there are some verbs to watch out for as some are called stem-changing verbs.
Stem-changing verbs are verbs that you have to make a few other changes to when conjugating them in the Spanish continuous tense.
Examples of stem-changing verbs in the Spanish continuous
Some examples of stem-changing verbs to take note of include:
- Verbs that end in eer, such as creer, and leer, which become creyendo and leyendo respectively.
- Verbs such as ir, which becomes yendo.
- Verbs that are classed as stem-changing verbs, whose roots change when conjugated in the present tense, such as morir, sentir, mentir. These verbs become muriendo, sintiendo and mintiendo, respectively.
Practice the Spanish continuous tense and let people know what you’re doing
The Spanish continuous, though it might seem complicated at first, is easy enough to learn quickly.
The more practice you put in, the better you’ll get.
Practice telling people what you’re currently doing in Spanish and use the Spanish continuous tense at every opportunity.
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