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El Gerundio in Spanish

Ultimate Guide to El Gerundio in Spanish (Examples + Exercises)

Queridos alumnos (Dear students), this is it: the last video you’ll ever have to watch about how and when to use el gerundio in Spanish! 

What is el Gerundio? 

El gerundio —or gerund in English— is a verb used to indicate two things: 

  1. something that is happening as I speak (for example, Estoy dando clase / I’m teaching class); or 
  2. the reason behind something (for example, Sabiendo que el gerundio es difícil, preparé esta clase / Knowing that the gerund is difficult, I prepared this lesson).

The gerund isn’t difficult at all! I will show you how easy it actually is in this video. 

El gerundio is similar to ING-verbs in English, but the uses are not quite the same. That’s why it’s important that you learn how the gerund works in Spanish.

Simultaneous actions

Let’s listen to a little conversation and let’s see if you can guess what the pattern is…

PERSON 1
¡Qué onda! ¿Qué estás haciendo?
(What’s up! What are you doing?)

PERSON 2
¡Qué onda! Estoy trabajando.
Tengo que entregar una traducción enorme la próxima semana.

(Hey! I’m working. I have to deliver a massive translation next week.)

PERSON 1
Lo supuse, pero deberías estar descansando. ¡Es domingo!
(I presumed so, but you should be resting. It’s Sunday!)

PERSON 2
Sí, me la paso trabajando, durmiendo o comiendo.
(Yes, I spend my days working, sleeping, and eating.)

PERSON 1
Creo que es lo que todo mundo ha estado haciendo en tiempos de pandemia.
(I think that’s what most people have been doing during the pandemic.)

Now, you’ve seen quite some examples of the gerund already… and perhaps you’ve noticed this use is quite similar to that in English! I will tell you when to avoid the gerund in Spanish later in this video, but first, let’s go over the conjugation:

  • When a verb ends in -AR, like trabajar (to work) or descansar (to rest), the ending is -ANDO, as in trabajando (working) or descansando (resting).
  • When a verb ends in either -ER or -IR, like comer (to eat) or dormir (to sleep), the ending is -IENDO, as comiendo (eating) or durmiendo (sleeping). 

As you heard in the dialogue, when someone asks ¿Qué estás haciendo? (What are you doing?), they are using the gerund because whatever the other person is doing is happening at the same time as the question being asked. 

In this case, you’d reply with a combination of the verb estar and a gerund:

  • Estoy trabajando (I’m working)
  • Estás durmiendo (You are sleeping)
  • Está comiendo (S/he is eating)

The gerund is also used for things that are done repeatedly, as in Me la paso trabajando, durmiendo o comiendo (I spend my days working, sleeping, and eating).

Now, you could try to learn the gerund the old way: by drilling conjugation tables, but the easiest way to get that done is by using flashcards and learning the gerund as a word combination (or a chunk), like this: 

  • FRONT: Me la paso ______________ (I spend my days working, sleeping, and eating).
  • BACK: Me la paso trabajando, durmiendo o comiendo. 

The reason behind something

The gerund is also used to tell the reason behind something. Let’s listen to the rest of the conversation to find out how that’s done…

PERSON 1
Sabiendo lo mucho que te estresan ese tipo de traducciones,
supongo que ni siquiera has dormido.

(Knowing how stressful that sort of translation are for you, I presume you haven’t even slept.)

PERSON 2
He dormido lo suficiente.
(I have slept enough.)

PERSON 1
Conociéndote, lo suficiente deben ser dos horas.
(Knowing you, two hours must be enough.)

PERSON 2
Dos hora y media.
(Two and a half hours.)

PERSON 1
No, bueno, te sigues descuidando.
(Oh, dear, you keep not taking care of yourself.)

PERSON 2
Estás exagerando, como siempre.
(You’re exaggerating, as always.)

In this portion of the conversation, the gerund is used the same way in both English and Spanish: to indicate the reason or justification behind something.

  • Sabiendo lo mucho que te estresan ese tipo de traducciones, supongo que ni siquiera has dormido. (Knowing how stressful that sort of translation are for you, I presume you haven’t even slept.)
  • Conociéndote, lo suficiente deben ser dos horas. (Knowing you, two hours must be enough.)

Essentially, because I know you, I presume this or that… I also used the gerund this way in the introduction:

  • Sabiendo que el gerundio es difícil, preparé esta clase. (Knowing that the gerund is difficult, I prepared this lesson.)

So, in Spanish, you may use the gerund as a reason or justification for something.

Avoid the gerund in these cases

Como dije antes (Like I mentioned before), the gerund in Spanish is kind of similar to ING-verbs in English, but the uses are not the same. These are those you should avoid:

  1. Talking about an action that takes place at a later time

In Spanish, you shouldn’t use the gerund to talk about the consequence or the result of something.

So, in a sentence like Mariana aplaudió, despertando los estudiantes (Mariana applauded, waking up the students), we’re trying to say that the students woke up because I applauded (which is the result of my action), but this use of the gerund is incorrect.

Instead, the correct version would be: 

  • Mariana aplaudió, y los estudiantes se despertaron. (Mariana applauded, and the students woke up.)
  • Los estudiantes se despertaron porque Mariana aplaudió. (The students woke up because Mariana applauded.)
  1. Using the gerund as an adjective

In English, it is very common to use an ING-verb to describe something else. For example, I enjoy sports, including swimming, tennis, and basketball.

If you do this in Spanish, however, you would be using the gerund incorrectly. So, instead of saying, Disfruto los deportes, incluyendo la natación, el tenis y el basquetbol, say, Disfruto los deportes; entre ellos, la natación, el tenis y el basquetbol.

  1. Using the gerund although the subject is different

Think of the gerund as a unit that is always accompanied by a conjugated verb, like the verb estar, which appears next to a gerund very often. Conjugated verbs always correspond to a specific pronoun (I, you s/he, we, they). For that reason, you cannot use the gerund independently as it is done in this sentence:

  • Ustedes pueden aprender español enseñándoles chunks.

In this case, you guys is the subject, but enseñándoles —which is the gerund— corresponds to us, Spring Spanish. Since those are two different subjects, the gerund should be avoided altogether.

Quiz & Recap

Alright! Let’s do a quick recap to make sure you’ve understood how and when to use the gerund.

  • ___________ que el gerundio es difícil, preparé esta clase (Knowing that the gerund is difficult, I prepared this lesson). [sabiendo]
  • ¿Qué estás ____________? (What are you doing?) [haciendo]
  • Te sigues ______________. (You keep not taking care of yourself.) [descuidando]
  • He estado ___________ lo suficiente. (I have been sleeping enough.) [durmiendo]
  • ______________, lo suficiente deben ser dos horas. (Knowing you, two hours must be enough.) [conociéndote]

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