The Imperfect Progressive Tense in Spanish

The Imperfect Progressive Tense in Spanish
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  • 0:03 Present Progressive
  • 3:40 Imperfect Progressive
  • 7:13 Practica
  • 10:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: April Schmidt

April has a Ph.D. in Spanish and has been teaching college-level Spanish for the past eight years.

What are you doing right now? What were you doing half an hour ago? In this lesson, you will learn how to answer both of these questions in Spanish as we review the present progressive and then learn how to form and use the imperfect progressive.

Review: Present Progressive

What are you doing right now? If you answered, 'I'm watching a Spanish video lesson,' you were doing something else, too: using the present progressive. In this lesson, you will be reviewing the present progressive and its uses. You will then apply this knowledge to the formation of the past or imperfect progressive, which is similar to the present progressive in both structure and usage.

In English, the present progressive is made up of a present tense form of the verb 'to be' (I am, you are, he/she is, we are, they are) and the present participle (the verb form that ends in -ing). In Spanish, the present progressive, or the presente progresivo, is formed in a similar way, using the present tense of the verb estar (estoy, estás, está, estamos, estáis, están) and the present participle, or participio presente (the verb form that ends in -ando or -iendo).

However, as you may remember, the way the present progressive is used is very different in Spanish and English.

In English, the present progressive is the most commonly used present tense. It can be used to talk about things that are happening at the moment, things that are happening over a period of time, and even things that are going to be happening in the future.

In Spanish, the present progressive is only used for things that are actually taking place at the present moment. So, of the English examples you just saw, you would only be able to translate the first one into Spanish using the present progressive: 'Estoy leyendo en este momento.' The other two sentences would need to be translated with the simple present tense: 'Tomo una clase de español este semestre' and 'Mi familia va a las Bahamas este verano.'

Review: The Present Participle

As you probably remember, the present participle in Spanish is formed by dropping the -ar, -er, or -ir ending off the verb and adding either -ando (for -ar verbs) or -iendo (for -er and -ir verbs).

Of course, there are variations. For example, the stems of -ir stem-changing verbs change in the present participle, although the stem does not change the same way it does in the present tense. For instance, if the stem changes from o to ue in the present tense, it changes from o to u for the present participle. So morir, which changes to muero, mueres, mueres, etc. in the present tense, has muriendo for a present participle. If the stem changes from e to ie or from e to i in the present tense, it changes from e to i in the present participle. So sentir, which changes to siento, sientes, siente, etc. in the present tense, has sintiendo for a present participle. And repetir, which changes to repito, repites, repite, etc., has repitiendo as a present participle.

Also, if a verb ends in -er or -ir and the stem ends in a vowel, the i in -iendo changes to a y: -yendo. So leer, which has the stem le-, would be leyendo. Oír, which has o- for a stem, would be oyendo, etc.

Imperfect Progressive

Now that you've brushed up on the present progressive, we'll move on to the past progressive. In English, it is similar to the present progressive, except that it uses the past tense of the verb 'to be' (I was, you were, he/she was, we were, they were) along with the present participle. For example, the sentences 'I was studying' or 'My roommate was watching TV' are both in the past progressive. The past progressive is used for actions or events that were in progress at some point in the past.

In Spanish, the past or imperfect progressive is, as its name suggests, made up of the imperfect form of the verb estar (estaba, estabas, estaba, estábamos, estabais, estaban) and the present participle. So, the English sample sentences we just saw would be 'Yo estaba estudiando' and 'Mi compañero de cuarto estaba mirando la televisión' in Spanish.

But wait a minute! If the Spanish present progressive can only be used for something that is actually in progress at the present moment, how can there be a past progressive in Spanish? Obviously, it can't literally be in progress if it happened in the past.

Good question! In Spanish, the imperfect progressive is used for actions or events that were in progress at a specific moment in the past. So, just like the present progressive, the past progressive gets used much less frequently in Spanish than it does in English. Just because the past progressive is used in a sentence in English doesn't necessarily mean that a Spanish translation of the sentence would use the imperfect progressive. As you may remember, the imperfect tense is often used in Spanish for actions that were in progress at some point in the past. So, most of the time, the plain imperfect tense is used in Spanish for sentences that use the past progressive in English. You would only use the imperfect progressive in Spanish if you wished to stress that the action was in progress at a specific moment.

Let's take a look at a couple examples. Which would you use in the following sentence, the imperfect or the imperfect progressive? 'I was doing homework and watching TV at the same time.' OK, two things were in progress in the past, but there's no indication exactly when they were taking place. So we would just use the imperfect for this sentence: 'Yo hacía la tarea y miraba la television al mismo tiempo.'

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