Imagine you are on the phone to a relative, a friend or a colleague, who has answered a call from you. On finding out that you are at home when you were expected to be somewhere else, the other person says to you something like: "tell me, what were you doing at home?".
In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿qué hacías en casa?
On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿qué hacía (usted) en casa?
The question is an invitation for you to say what you were doing. When saying what you were doing, you do not need to consider different levels of formality for you reply. Your answers need to be concerned with indicating what you were doing.
If we assume that you want to be quite specific and indicate simultaneous activities, here are some examples of how you could reply:
- Estaba sentado desayunando* (I was sitting down having breakfast- male speaking);
- Estaba sentada desayunando* (I was sitting down having breakfast- female speaking);
- Estaba tumbado en la cama descansando* (I was lying in bed resting- male speaking);
- Estaba tumbada en la cama descansando* (I was lying in bed resting- female speaking);
- Estaba ocupado estudiando* español (I was busy studying Spanish- male speaking);
- Estaba ocupada estudiando* español (I was busy studying Spanish- female speaking);
Now you should practise replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿qué hacías en casa?
*Please see grammar below
The Spanish gerund is the verb form which corresponds to the English -ing ending gerund/ present participle. In Spanish, the gerund is formed by adding -ando to the stem of -ar ending verbs, and adding -iendo to the stems of -er or -ir ending verbs. In Spanish all gerunds are formed as shown in Table 1 below:
- Verb EndingExampleCorresponding Gerund-artrabajartrabajando-ercomercomiendo-irvivirviviendo
Table 1 – Spanish Gerunds
Please note that there are some important differences between the Spanish gerund and the English gerund/ present participle. The main differences are:
- The Spanish gerund should not be used to translate an English -ing ending verb form when that verb form is used as compound noun. See examples below:
- drinking water ↔ agua potable
- swimming pool ↔ piscina
- fuel saving ↔ ahorro de combustible
- hard-working person ↔ persona trabajadora
- The Spanish gerund should not be used to translate an English -ing ending verb form when that verb form is used as a noun which is the subject in sentences* such as:
- eating fruit is good ↔ comer fruta es bueno
- parking is not allowed ↔ no está permitido aparcar
- travelling is what I like best ↔ lo que más me gusta es viajar
- The Spanish gerund should not be used to translate an English -ing ending verb form when that verb form is a noun which is preceded by a preposition*. See examples below:
- before eating ↔ antes de comer
- after parking ↔ después de aparcar
- without speaking ↔ sin hablar
- The Spanish gerund should not be used to translate English -ing ending verb form when that verb form is a noun which is a direct object of certain verbs, such as, hate, like and similar*. See examples below:
- I hate getting up early ↔ detesto madrugar
- do you like swimming? ↔ ¿te gusta nadar?
*NB In such cases, in Spanish we us the infinitive instead.
In Spanish the gerund is used in the following main situations:
1. Continuous Form- Verbs
In Spanish, we commonly use “estar” followed by a gerund to form continuous verb tenses. Continuous verb tenses are used to indicate ongoing actions, which often take place at the time of speaking, but may also take place at other times also.
Although the most common use of the continuous form of verb tenses is found in the present and imperfect tenses, its use is not restricted to those tenses. In fact, the continuous form may be used with all verb tenses. Some examples of the use of the gerund in continuous forms of verbs with a variety of tenses are:
- Estoy escribiendo una carta (I am writing a letter);
- Estabas mirando la tele, ¿verdad? (you were watching TV, weren't you?);
- Pedro estará llegando por la mañana temprano (Pedro will be arriving early in the morning);
- Hemos estado cenando en un restaurate muy típico (we have been dining in a very traditional restaurant);
- Estuvisteis viajando por los Estados Unidos (you people have been travelling in the USA);
- Espero que John y Ann lo estén pasando muy bien (I hope that John and Ann are having a good time);
2. Emphasise Action Duration
In Spanish, we commonly use some verbs, especially, “andar”, “continuar”, “ir” and “seguir” followed by a gerund to emphasise the duration of an action. Examples of this use are:
- Sigo contando con vosotros (I am still counting/ I have not given up counting on you);
- Continúas estudiando ¿verdad? (you are still studying, aren't you?);
- Van pasando los años (the years keep going by);
- Andan diciendo que queréis iros (they keep saying that you (pl) want to leave);
3. Simultaneous Actions
In Spanish, we commonly use the gerund to indicate actions which take place at the same time as the main verb action. Examples of this use are:
- Pedro estaba tumbado en la cama durmiendo (Pedro was lying in bed asleep);
- John y Ann se pasean por el parque charlando (John and Ann are walking in the park chatting);
Now you should practise the uses of the gerund with some examples of your own.
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