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When to use gerunds in Spanish?

A woman wearing a yellow dress walking down a very colorful street.

Spanish gerunds (aka present participles) are words ending in –ando or –iendo; they are equivalent to English words ending in “-ing,” such as “running” or “cooking.” They are used to form progressive tenses with estar (to be), or as adverbs to describe the action of the verb it accompanies. For example: Juan está subiendo al autobús (Juan is getting on the bus). Or Ana salió corriendo (Ana left running).

They can also be used to indicate location, to indicate two actions happening at the same time, and with certain types of verbs.

Contrary to English -ing forms, gerunds in Spanish (-ando/-iendo forms) are NOT used as adjectives, as nouns, or after prepositions. For example:

  • It’s an interesting program. →  Es un programa interesante (adjective).
  • Running is fun.Correr (infinitive) es divertido.
  • They take a nap after eating lunch.Duermen la siesta después de comer (infinitive).

Not too hard, right? Ready to keep learning? Keep on reading to find out more!

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

How to form the gerund in Spanish?

Gerunds are easy to spot as they end in either –ando (infinitives ending in –ar) or –iendo (infinitives ending in –er and –ir). 

-ar-andocaminar
to walk
caminando
walking
-er -iendocomer
to eat
comiendo
eating
-ir -iendovivir
to live
viviendo
living
Unlike English, Spanish makes no distinction between present participles and gerunds. Follow this link to see more information about Spanish present participles, including stem-changing verbs and irregular verbs.

When to use the gerund in Spanish?

The gerund has two main functions in Spanish: to form progressive tenses or to modify another verb. Let’s break down these uses!

  • With estar to form progressive tenses

    Progressive tenses (past, present, future), formed with estar (to be) and a gerund, describe actions viewed as continuous. For instance:

    Estoy mirando la televisión. = Miro la televisión.
    I’m watching TV.

    Do you want to know more about the Spanish present progressive tense? If so, check out this post!

    Another popular progressive tense is the imperfect progressive. It describes an action being in progress at some point in the past. Like its present counterpart, the simple imperfect can also indicate that the action is in progress.

    Estaba mirando la televisión. = Miraba la televisión.
    I was watching TV.

⤷TIP With progressive tenses, object and reflexive pronouns can be placed before estar or can be attached to the gerund.

Me estaba duchando. OR me.
I was showering.

IMPORTANT

Some verbs, other than estar, can be used with the gerund to create meanings that are very similar to the progressive and convey a sense of continuity. These verbs include andar (to walk), ir (to go), venir (to come), and continuar/seguir (to continue, to go on), llevar (to be doing something), and quedarse (to continue to do something):

Ando pensando qué hacer.
I’m thinking of what to do.

El bebé se quedó mirando mi pelo con asombro.
The baby kept looking at my hair in awe.

  • As an adverb, describing the action of the verb it accompanies
    Gerunds can indicate manner, cause, and condition.
    • Manner: They describe the way in which the action of the verb they go after is being performed.

      Entró a su cuarto corriendo.
      She came into her room running.

⤷TIP What do you do when the gerund is a reflexive verb and it’s used as an adverb? Where should you place the reflexive pronoun? Always put the reflexive pronoun attached to the gerund:

Me habló riéndose
He talked to me while laughing.

    • Cause: The gerund can describe the reason why the action of the verb it accompanies happens. The clause that contains the gerund can go before or after the clause with the main verb:

      Siendo un hombre honrado, no permitió que mancharan su nombre. = No permitió que mancharan su nombre, siendo un hombre honrado.
      Being (=because he is) an honest man, he didn’t let them drag his name through the mud.

    • Condition: They indicate the condition under which the action of the verb they accompany happens. The clause with the gerund can go before or after the clause with the main verb:

      Estando su hijo enfermo, no vendrá a la fiesta. = No vendrá a la fiesta, estando su hijo enfermo.
      His son being sick (=if his son is sick), he won’t come to the party.

  • Two actions happening simultaneously
    We use two verbs, one being conjugated (present, imperfect, etc.) and one being a gerund to indicate two simultaneous actions:

    Caminando por el parque encontré una moneda de oro.
    While walking in the park, I found a gold coin.

⤷TIP Alternatively, you can use mientras (while) + imperfect to convey the same meaning:

Mientras caminaba por el parque encontré una moneda de oro.

  • To indicate location
    Verbs of movement can be used in the gerund form to indicate location:

    -¿Dónde está la tienda?
    -Where is the store?

    -Cruzando la calle.
    -Across the street.

    These gerunds are often paired with the verb estar (to be) to be more specific about the location:

    El baño está entrando a la izquierda. The bathroom is after the entrance to your left.

  • Purpose with verbs of communication
    We can use a gerund after a verb of communication like llamar (to call) or escribir (un mensaje, un correo, etc.) (to write (a message, an email, etc.)), to indicate purpose.

    Me llamó pidiendo ayuda.
    He called me asking (=to ask) for help.

    The gerund can be substituted with a purpose clause,  para + infinitive:

    Me llamó para pedir ayuda. He called to ask for help.

  • After verbs of seeing and hearing
    Both gerunds and infinitives can be used with verbs of seeing and hearing. When we use a gerund, the action is viewed as in progress; whereas when you use the infinitive, the action is completed.

    Oigo a los vecinos discutir. I hear the neighbors argue.

    Oigo a los vecinos discutiendo. I hear the neighbors arguing.

    In the first example, the arguing occurs, but not necessarily at the exact time of speaking. However, in the second example, the arguing is taking place at the same time of speaking.

  • To qualify the object of a verb
    We can use gerunds to qualify the direct object with verbs like: descubrir (to discover), pillar/agarrar (to catch), encontrar/hallar (to find):

    Encontré a mi perro mordiendo mis zapatos.
    I found my dog chewing on my shoes.

IMPORTANT
Sometimes it could be confusing to figure out who is doing the action when we have two people involved. For instance, consider the following sentence:

Veo a María jugando en el jardín.
I see María playing in the garden.

Who’s playing in the garden? María? The person who sees María? The answer is María! However, if we wanted to say otherwise, then the appropriate subject pronoun is placed after the gerund.

Veo a María jugando yo en el jardín.
I see María while I’m playing in the garden.

When not to use the gerund

In English “-ing” verbs are used in more contexts than in Spanish: when used as a present participle they function as adjectives, adverbs, and verbs and when used as a gerund they function as nouns. In contrast, Spanish never uses gerunds as adjectives or nouns so let’s see what is used instead.

  • As an adjective
    Spanish doesn’t use gerunds as adjectives. Instead, we simply use adjectives or past participles:

    Mis clases son muy aburridas.
    My classes are very boring.

Exception!

There are two exceptions: hirviendo (boiling) and ardiendo (burning) are considered adjectives:

Necesito más agua hirviendo.
I need more boiling water.

Ponlo encima del fuego ardiendo.
Put it on top of the burning fire.

Would you like to know more ways Spanish deals with English present participles used as adjectives? Keep on reading here. 

  • As a noun
    Nouns in both languages can function as subjects, objects, or objects of prepositions. In English, gerunds are used as nouns in these three contexts, but in Spanish only infinitives are allowed. Let’s compare some examples:

    • As a subject

      Nadar no está permitido.
      Swimming is not allowed.

      This includes verbs like gustar (to be pleasing). Recall that gustar is followed by its subject and this subject is either a noun (singular or plural) or an infinitive. In English when you like doing an activity, the verb “like” can be followed by either an infinitive or an “-ing” verb.

      She likes swimming/to swim in the morning.

      In Spanish, the infinitive is the only option:

      Le gusta nadar por las mañanas. (Le gusta nadando por las mañanas.)

      Do you need to review verb gustar and similar verbs? Learn more about it here.

    • As an object of the verb
      In English an “-ing” verb can be used as the object of the verb (avoid, allow, suggest, consider, etc):

      I couldn’t help listening to their conversation.

      However in Spanish, an infinitive is used in this case if the subject is doing both actions:

      No pude evitar oír su conversación.

      If there are two different subjects, then Spanish uses a relative clause:

      No pude evitar que (tú) escucharas su conversación.
      I couldn’t help you listening to their conversation.

    • After a preposition
      In such cases, Spanish always uses an infinitive:

      Es capaz de hacer cálculos complicadísimos sin usar una calculadora.
      She can do extremely complicated math mentally without using a calculator.

      Check out our post on Spanish infinitives to learn more!

IMPORTANT

In English you can replace a passive infinitive with an “-ing” verb, for example:

My shoes need cleaning (= to be cleaned).

In such cases, Spanish uses a noun or a clause.

Mis zapatos necesitan limpieza.

  • English fixed expressions
    Some English expressions of the type “-ing + noun,” such as “changing room” (probador) are not translated using gerunds. Spanish has either a specific word or uses noun + de + infinitive/noun instead.

    sleeping bagsaco de dormir

    Click the link for a list with more Spanish expressions!

Summary

Spanish gerunds end in –ando or –iendo, are equivalent to English “-ing” verbs, and are used:
  • to form progressive tenses with estar,
  • as adverbs to describe the action of the verb it accompanies,
  • to indicate location, and;
  • to indicate two actions happening at the same time.
Conversely, gerunds are NOT used as:
  • adjectives,
  • nouns,
  • after a preposition, and
  • fixed English “-ing” expressions.

Would you like to download a chart containing when to use and when not to use gerunds in Spanish? Click the link!

Ready to practice? Try out the our Spanish gerunds activities! Happy practicing!
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

Adjectives are words that are used to describe something, including people, animals, things, places, or ideas. Adjectives are used to make many types of descriptions, such as stating the color, amount, category, appearance, or possession of something or someone.

Adverbs are words that modify adjectives or verbs:

  • she is very clever
  • he runs quickly

Nouns are words that represent people, things, animals, ideas, or actions, like man, table, tiger, generosity

An infinitive is a verb in its basic form, for example to run, to eat, to be. In Spanish, infinitives have one of three endings: –ar, –er, –ir (cantar, comer, vivir).

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Extra Resources:

Gerunds table
Gerunds uses

Activities:

Gerunds activity

Activities:

Gerunds activity

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