Spanish Imperfect Progressive – Grammar Tip

Spanish Grammar Tip

El imperfecto continuo (Spanish imperfect progressive) is used to describe an action or event that was occurring at a particular moment in the past.

Normally, said action is interrupted by another past event expressed in the preterite tense. When translating into English, there isn’t an explicit distinction between the Spanish regular imperfect tense and the progressive one; however, using the latter tense when speaking or writing show a far greater language competence.

Additionally, employing the imperfect progressive in Spanish underlines the intention of the speaker/writer to place the emphasis on the past action that was in progress rather than on the event that ceased it.

To form the Spanish imperfect progressive, the gerund form (-ndo) of the verb whose action was in progress in the past is added to the regular imperfect form of estar which, in turn, will depend on whom the action was being executed by.

 

Regular Imperfect of ESTAR Gerund form of verbs ending in
–AR/–ER/–IR
estaba (I was) -ar → -ando 
estabas (you were)
estaba (he/she/it was) -er → -iendo 
estábamos (we were)
estabais (you lot were)
estaban (they were) -ir → -iendo

 

Let’s look at some examples:

Laura estaba pensando en Carlota. → Laura was thinking about Carlota.

¿Qué estabas haciendo anoche a las once? → What were you doing yesterday night at 11pm?

El profesor estaba repitiendo las instrucciones a los alumnos cuando Marcos se cayó de la silla. → The teacher was repeating the instructions to his students when Marcos fell off his chair.

 

As seen with the present equivalent of the tense at hand, a number of verbs feature an irregular gerund form. The irregularity affects the verb stem and here are the most common changes:

 

VERB IRREGULAR STEM CHANGE GERUND FORM
decir (to say/tell) e → i diciendo
pedir (to ask/order) e → i pidiendo
oír (to hear) ir → y oyendo
leer (to read) er → y leyendo
morir (to die) o → u muriendo
dormir (to sleep) o → u durmiendo

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