Gerunds of English, Explanation For Spanish Usage

The gerunds of English grammar do not translate directly to Spanish. A gerund in English is a word that ends in -ing that can be used interchangeably as a noun or a verb.

Here are examples of gerunds in English:

Running
Laughing
Talking
Walking

In these sentences, the gerund is a noun because it identifies the action as a thing that is doing something:

1. Running is a fun thing to do.
2. Laughing is not permitted in class.
3. My son’s talking is always encouraged.
4. Walking is a healthy activity.

In the sentences above, the gerund or word ending in -ing is the subject of the sentence. The words are concepts or things and they are being described or carried out as concepts which are things, and things are nouns (remember, a noun is a person, place or thing).

In the sentences below, the gerund is used as a verb:

1. They were running really fast.
2. Are you laughing at me?
3. Stop talking during class.
4. I was walking to the park on that day.

In the above sentences the gerund is a part of the verbal phrase. In the first sentence, “were running” is a verbal phrase. Then, we have “are laughing.” Then there’s ‘stop talking,’ then there’s ‘was walking.’

When a word ending in -ing acts as a verb, it is always accompanied by an auxiliary, or helping verb.

Now, let’s talk about how these words work in Spanish. In Spanish, when the word ending in -ing is acting as a verb, the translation is literal. So, for example:

They were running really fast.

In Spanish, this translates as:

Ellos estuvieron corriendo muy rápido.

Running translates to corriendo.

This is a literal translation.

How do I know this? In Spanish, the infinitives that end in -er and -ir combine with the ending -iendo to form what is the equivalent to the word ending in -ing. (The -ar verbs form a slightly different ending, more on this in a moment.)

-iendo translates to -ing

Yo estuve traduciendo los documentos. (I was translating the documents).

Traducir is the infinitive which means to translate.

Traduciendo is the exact Spanish equivalent to ‘translating.’

Ayer fuimos corriendo.
(We went running yesterday.)

Correr is the infinitive which means to run.

Corriendo is the exact Spanish equivalent to ‘running.’

Estoy escribiendo un libro.
(I am writing a book.)

Escribir is the infinitive which means to write.

Escribiendo is the exact Spanish equivalent to ‘writing.’

In Spanish, as you may already know, (see this article), there are three verb form endings, -ar, -ir, -er. The verbs ending in -ar become -ando to form the equivalent of the word ending in -ing.

Hablar – to speak

Yo estuve hablando con mis amigos.
I was speaking with my friends.

In this sentence, hablando is speaking.

Cantar – to sing

Ella está cantando.
She is singing.

Contar – to count

Los niños están contando los bloques.
The children are counting blocks.

Saltar – to jump

Ellos están saltando sobre las piedras.
They are jumping over the rocks.

In the above sentences, the word ending in -ando is acting as a verb. Typically this is the only case where words ending in -ing in English are directly translated to Spanish, when the word is being used as a verb. Let us see what happens when we look at some looser and common English constructions so that you can see how phrases are translated when the English word ending in -ing is acting as a noun.

Let us look at the sentences from above.

1. Running is a fun thing to do.
2. Laughing is not permitted in class.
3. My son’s talking is always encouraged.
4. Walking is a healthy activity.

In the above sentences, the word ending in -ing is a gerund. In these sentences the gerund is acting as a noun and the subject of the sentence.

Now, let’s translate the above sentences to Spanish. You will notice that the translation is no longer direct. How to translate the sentence becomes more of a judgment call. Let’s translate each of these sentences.

1. Running is a fun thing to do.

Es divertido correr OR es una cosa divertida correr

2. Laughing is not permitted in class.

En esta clase se prohibe la risa.

3. My son’s talking is always encouraged.

Siempre motivo a mi hijo a hablar.

4. Walking is a healthy activity.

Es una actividad saludable el caminar.

Let me explain the translation of each of these sentences.

1. Running is a fun thing to do.

Es divertido correr OR es una cosa divertida correr

In this sentence, it makes most sense to translate “running” to correr because in this case “corriendo” does not make sense. The -ando, -iendo endings only occur with the helping verb in Spanish.

So, when translating words ending with -ando and -iendo, always think about whether your translation makes sense. Unless there is an auxiliary or helping verb to support it, the word should be translated differently. In many cases this can mean choosing the infinitive of the verb.

2. Laughing is not permitted in class.

En esta clase se prohibe la risa.

This translation comes by feel. In some cases in Spanish it makes more sense to replace the verb with its noun equivalent. You pick this up as you listen to natives speak.

3. My son’s talking is always encouraged.

Siempre motivo a mi hijo a hablar.

Translations always need to make sense. To express this same idea, I reversed some roles of the words in the sentence. There are other possibilities here.

4. Walking is a healthy activity.

Es una actividad saludable el caminar.

This sentence can also be reversed.

El caminar es una actividad saludable.

Sometimes it makes a bit more sense to add a modifier to the infinitive.

This may be even better:

Es una actividad saludable ir caminando.

Another usage of -ando and -iendo (leer [to read] is leyendo, creer [to believe] creyendo)

In English we sometimes explain stuff by using the word “by” plus the word ending in -ing.

For example,

By singing, you naturally relieve anxiety.

Notice in the above sentence that the word “by” occurs before the word -ing.

In Spanish, this normally translates to the word ending in -ando or -iendo by itself.

For example,

By studying a lot, you will ace this test.

Estudiando mucho, vas a aprobar esta prueba.

In this example, “estudiando” literally means studying but by the context of this sentence we can see that I mean “by studying.”

Let’s try another one:

Cantando, alivias tu ansiedad.
By singing, you relieve your anxiety.

In this example, “cantando” literally means singing but by the context of this sentence we can see that I mean “by singing.”

Bailando, ejercitas bien el cuerpo.
By dancing your body gets good exercise.

In this example, “bailando” literally means dancing but by the context of this sentence we can see that I mean “by dancing.”

This principle applies to any infinitive.

Do you have any questions? Send them my way any time!

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