What is the Spanish Continuous tense?
The Spanish Continuous Tense is used in Spanish when someone wants to say that they are doing something right at that moment. Alternatively it may be used to emphasise that someone was doing something at a particular moment.
Saying that you are doing something at that very moment
To say that you are doing something at that very moment, you use the Present Tense of ‘estar’ and follow it with the Present Participle (explained below), for example:
- Estoy hablando = I am talking
- Estás comiendo = You are eating (informal & singular ‘you’)
- Está estudiando = He/she is studying + You are studying (formal & singular ‘you’)
- Estamos vendiendo = We are selling
- Estáis decidiendo = You are deciding (informal & plural ‘you’)
- Están escribiendo = They are writing + You are writing (formal & plural ‘you’)
All of the above examples are really emphasising that they are doing the action there and then.
Do not use the Spanish continuous tense when talking about doing things generally. Instead you should use the present tense, for example:
- Present Tense: Aprendo español = I learn Spanish/I am learning Spanish (= The person is saying that they are learning Spanish over a period of time)
- Continuous Present Tense: Estoy aprendiendo español = I am learning Spanish (= The person is emphasising that they are learning Spanish right at that moment).
You need to be able to recognise this tense and be able to use it (especially where a question is given to you in this format).
How to form the Spanish Present Continuous
1. First part – Use the appropriate part of “Estar” (to be)
- Estoy = I am
- Estás = You are (informal & singular)
- Está = He/She is/You are (formal & singular)
- Estamos = We are
- Estáis = You are (plural & informal)
- Están = They are/You are (plural & formal)
2. Second part – Use the appropriate “present participle”
You form the present participle (i.e. the –ing) word. You do this as follows:
- For ‘ar’ verbs change the ‘ar’ to ‘ando’ (e.g. hablar (to talk) becomes hablando (talking)).
- For ‘er’ verbs change the ‘er’ to ‘iendo’ (e.g. comer (to eat) becomes comiendo (eating))
- For ‘ir’ verbs change the ‘ir’ to ‘iendo’ (e.g. vivir (to live) becomes viviendo (living))
3. Third part – Put them together to make your sentence
- Estoy hablando = I am talking
- Estás comiendo = You are eating
Although we have used the present tense of “estar” above, it is equally possible to use other tenses plus the past participle. By way of example ‘Estaba comiendo’ means ‘I was eating’ (estaba = I was, comiendo = eating).
Irregular Present Participles
Unfortunately there are some irregular present participles, some of which are follows:
- leyendo = reading (leer = to read)
- cayendo = falling (caer = to fall)
- pidiendo = asking for (pedir = to ask for)
- muriendo = dying (morir = to die)
- durmiendo = sleeping (dormir = to sleep)
- siguiendo = following (seguir = to follow)
- diciendo = saying/telling (decir = to say/to tell)
- oyendo = hearing (oír = to hear)
- incluyendo = including (incluir = to include)
- creyendo = believing (creer = to believe)
- sintiendo = feeling (sentir = to feel)
Remember that the structure used above is only used to talk about what is being done there and then. Do not use it to talk about things you are doing generally. Instead in this situation you should use the normal Present Tense. Any questions? Feel free to get in contact.
How to form the Spanish Continuous in the Past
You form the Past of the Spanish Continuous Tense when you want to emphasise that someone was doing something at a particular moment.
The only difference between this structure and the Spanish Present Continuous is instead of using the Present Tense of ‘estar’ you instead use the Imperfect Tense of ‘estar’, as follows:
- Estaba = I was
- Estabas = You were (informal and singular ‘you’)
- Estaba = He/She was + You were (formal and singular ‘you’)
- Estábamos = We were
- Estabais = You were (informal and plural ‘you’)
- Estaban = They were + You were (formal and plural ‘you’)
You follow the Imperfect Tense of estar with the Present Participle in the same way as you did for the Present Continuous. See the following examples:
- Estaba hablando = I was talking
- Estabas comiendo = You were eating (informal and singular ‘you’)
- Estaba estudiando = He/She was studying + You were studying (formal and singular ‘you’)
- Estábamos vendiendo = We were selling
- Estabais decidiendo = You were deciding (informal and plural ‘you’)
- Estaban escribiendo = They were writing + You were writing (formal and plural ‘you’)
The Spanish Past Continuous Tense is useful to emphasise that someone was doing something at a particular moment in time. However, in reality the Imperfect Tense is far more popular:
- Hablaba = I was talking
- Comías = You were eating (informal and singular ‘you’)
- Estudiaba = He/She was studying + You were studying (formal and singular ‘you’)
- Vendíamos = We were selling
- Decidíais = You were deciding (informal and plural ‘you’)
- Escribían = They were writing + You were writing (formal and plural ‘you’)
There are plenty of resources in grammar books and online on how to form the Imperfect Tense, which you could refer to if the above is new to you.
Further help is available
I hope that the above has helped you to understand how to use the Spanish Continuous Tense.
If you have any questions or wish to book Online Spanish sessions with me (starting at £12 for 30 minutes), feel free to contact me (a link to my Contact Page is on the menu above).