The Spanish present continuous (also known as the present progressive) is made up of the present tense of estar (to be), followed by the present participle of the main verb. The main use of the present continuous is to express something that is happening at this very moment. Also, bear in mind that the contexts in which the present continuous are used in English vary in Spanish.
Keep reading to learn more about the present continuous in Spanish, how it is formed, and the different situations in which it is used in Spanish compared to English.
Table of Contents
How to form the present continuous in Spanish?
As mentioned above, the present continuous is composed of two parts: the present tense of estar, followed by the present participle of the main verb. Let’s start with how to form the present participle:
The present participle is formed by adding -ando to the stem (the verb without infinitive endings -ar, -er, or -ir) of -ar verbs and -iendo to the stem of -er and -ir verbs. Spanish -ando and -iendo present participles are equivalent to the English “-ing” present participles:
Infinitives ending in -ar
⇨ Form present participles ending in -ando
Infinitives ending in -er and -ir
⇨ Form present participles ending in -iendo
To form present participles:
- Take, for instance, an infinitive like cantar (to sing).
- Drop the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir). In this case, leave off -ar.
- The resulting form is can-, that’s your stem.
- Then, add the appropriate ending to the stem. Since it is an infinitive ending in -ar, the correct ending is -ando.
- The resulting present participle is cantando (singing).
→ Drop -ar
→ Add –ando
→ Drop -er
→ Add -iendo
→ Drop -ir
→ Add -iendo
Check out these tables for more details, including Spanish irregular verbs, stem-changers, and reflexive verbs.
Now that we know how to form the present participle, the present continuous tense is as easy as adding the present tense of estar:
|Present tense of estar||+||Present participle|
|+||mirando la televisión. |
viviendo en Buenos Aires.
living in Buenos Aires.
Reflexive pronouns in Spanish can either be placed before the conjugated form of estar or attached to the present participle:
Juan se está duchando. = Juan está duchándose.
Juan is taking a shower.
How to form negative sentences?
What if the sentence is negative? Where do we put the negative word, “no”? In English, the negative word is placed between the verb “to be” and the present participle, e.g., “I am not doing the dishes.” However, Spanish negative words are located right before the conjugated form of estar (to be):
No estoy haciendo nada malo.
I am not doing anything wrong.
How to form questions?
When using the present continuous in a question, simply add a question word like ¿qué? (what?) at the beginning of the sentence, or use a rising intonation for yes/no questions.
Question word → ¿Qué están comiendo?
What are you eating?
Rising intonation → ¿Están comiendo?
Are you eating?
⤷TIP Raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the question, like this:
Now that we know how the Spanish present continuous is formed, let’s focus on when to use it.
When do you use the present continuous in Spanish?
The present continuous in Spanish is used in the following three contexts:
Actions happening right nowThis context refers to actions happening at the same time of speaking. Examples:
– ¿Qué estás haciendo? – What are you doing?
– Estoy mirando la televisión. – I’m watching TV.
–Estoy haciendo la tarea ahora mismo. – I’m doing my homework right now.Time phrases that are often used in these contexts:
|ahora||ahora mismo||en este momento|
|now||right now||in this (very)|
Temporary, non-habitual actions
This context refers to actions that…
- are happening at the time of speaking,
- have been happening for a limited amount of time (a week, a month, etc.), and
- are not what the speaker normally does.
Normalmente trabajo en Uruguay, pero este mes estoy trabajando en Chile.
I normally work in Uruguay, but I’ve been working in Chile this month.
Duermo muy mal, pero últimamente estoy durmiendo como un bebé.
I don’t sleep very well, but lately I’ve been sleeping like a baby.
Time phrases often used in these contexts:
|now||right now||in this (very)|
Habitual actions that the speaker perceives as annoyingThis context refers to actions that happen frequently (every day, all the time, etc.), perceived as annoying by the speaker. Examples:
¡Estás jugando todo el día con la PlayStation y mañana tienes un examen! You’ve been playing with your PlayStation all day, and you have a test tomorrow!Time phrases often used in these contexts:
|Todo el tiempo||Siempre||A todas horas||Todo el día|
|All the time||Always||All the time||All day long|
The Spanish simple present is also used to refer to actions happening right now, especially when no time phrases are used:
- ¿Qué estás haciendo? = ¿Qué haces?
What are you doing?
- Estoy mirando la televisión. = Miro la televisión.
I’m watching TV.
In English, an adverb like “always” is placed between the verb “to be” and the present participle, e.g., She’s always listening to loud music. However, Spanish adverbs can also be located at the beginning or at the end of the sentence, or after the present participle:
Está siempre escuchando música muy alta.
Siempre está escuchando música muy alta.
Está escuchando música muy alta siempre.
Está escuchando siempre música muy alta.
She’s always listening to loud music.
When NOT to use the present continuous
Unlike English, the present continuous is NOT used in the following contexts in Spanish:
|Contexts||In English||In Spanish|
|The verbs ir (to go) and venir (to come) (the simple present is used instead)||They're going to France. Guess who's coming.||Van a Francia.|
Adivina quién viene.
|Future actions (the simple present or the future tense are the preferred tenses)||I'm leaving tomorrow.||Me voy mañana. / Me iré mañana.|
|Habitual actions over a period of time (the simple present is used in this context)||Are you taking Spanish this semester?||¿Estudias español este semestre?|
|Non-action verbs (the simple present is the tense of choice in this case)||She's wearing black shoes.|
He’s looking tired.
|Lleva zapatos negros.|
- To express something going on at this very moment
- To describe non-habitual temporary actions
- To talk about recurring annoying actions
- With non-action verbs
- With the verbs ir (to go) and venir (to come)
- To talk about future and habitual actions
Reflexive pronouns accompany reflexive verbs, which are verbs used for actions in which the person doing and receiving the action are the same (meaning the subject and the object are the same).
- Reflexive pronouns in Spanish are words like me, te, se, nos, and os.
Yo me levanto en la mañana. I get (myself) up in the morning.
The simple present is a tense in Spanish used to talk about things that are always true and about regular routines. The simple present is used in these four situations: to talk about universal truths and facts, to talk about things you do routinely, to ask for or provide information about the present, and to describe things taking place at the moment of the conversation.