Formation of present action tense
We started to look at gerunds, or “present participles” last week; that is the Spanish equivalent of words in English ending in – ing. We saw how simple they are to form, by changing the endings in a very uniform way. The – ar of the infinitive verb changes to – ando, and the –er and –ir infinitive endings change to – iendo.
These forms are used fairly extensively in Spanish, but are not nearly so common as the gerund is in English. In English we use “–ing” words to express many different things that are not possible in Spanish. For example we can talk about future events by saying “Tomorrow I’m playing tennis” or “What are you doing later?” This is impossible in Spanish. We have to say “Tomorrow I’m going to play tennis” (Mañana voy a jugar al tenis) or “What are you going to do later?” (¿Qué vas a hacer más tarde?).
In English we can also use gerunds to describe activities, for example “I go to swimming lessons”. In Spanish this would be “Voy a clases de natación”. Another example is the use of the gerund in English after “I like” – as in “I like visiting the family” or “I don’t like watching horror films”. After “me gusta” and related forms in Spanish we use the infinitive of the verb. “Me gusta visitar a la familia”, “No me gusta ver películas de terror”. So, we can definitely say that in Spanish the gerund has much more limited uses, so we need to be careful not to translate too literally.
Probably the most common use of this form in Spanish is to combine it with the verb estar to talk about activities at the present moment in time. For example, if you phone someone up on their mobile phone, you might say to them: “What are you doing?” In that question you are enquiring about exactly what their actions are at that specific moment. They might reply “I’m cleaning the kitchen” or “I’m having a drink with a friend”. In the context, the use of the gerund or present participle is exactly the same as it is in English.
So, to create the same meaning we need the equivalent of “I am” and “you are” etc. and for this we use the verb estar. Here is the verb estar in its different forms. Estoy (I am) Estás (you are – familiar singular)
Está (he is, she is, it is, you are – formal singular) Estamos Estáis informal plural)
Están (they are, you are – formal plural) (we are) (you are –
Now we can simply combine the appropriate form of estar with the gerund of our verb to make a meaningful sentence, referring to actions in the present moment.
Here’s what I’m doing now.
Estoy escribiendo un artículo. Estoy tomando un té. Estoy escuchando la lluvia. Estoy pensando. ¿Qué estás haciendo? What are you doing?
Now here is what my friends and family are doing (I assume, although I haven’t phoned them to find out).
Mi madre está haciendo las compras. Mi gata está comiendo. Mi hermana está trabajando.
Mis hijas están estudiando.
Now you have some fairly obvious homework – at any moment you can think about how to say in Spanish what you and the people round you are doing!
Next week we will look at just a few irregular gerunds, but don’t worry, there aren’t many!