4

In Spanish, the gerund form (-ando, -endo) is frequently used adverbially to modify and describe the verb:

  • El alma es dichosa dando y sirviendo.
  • El niño anda bailando.
  • El artista vive provocando emociones.
  • ¿Porqué hablas gritando?

Can you use the same form in English, with an -ing verb where Spanish had an -ando/-endo one?

I ask because these all seem awkward when translated word-for-word directly into English:

  • The soul is happy giving and serving.
  • The little boy walks dancing.
  • Artists live provoking emotions.
  • Why do you speak shouting?

Is there any verb (perhaps only be?) with which it may work?

And anyway, what is the correct way to translate this form from Spanish to English?

  • 2
    You can use the participle (it is a participle in this case) in English: I was happy giving people food; she walked to the beach dancing; she lived provoking men all the time. These sentences are OK. It just usually sounds a bit awkward if you use it "bare" without some arguments to the participle, like an object to the participle, or some adverb, or whatever. – Cerberus Mar 7 '14 at 16:38
  • 1
    ... That's a function of the particular verb. 'He woke up coughing' / 'I almost died laughing' / 'She walked to the beach whistling' (dancing!?) are standard. These usages are arguably usually more adjectival than adverbial in nature. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '14 at 17:15
  • @EdwinAshworth I think all the examples you list fall into the description WS2 gave here. They are subject complements. I'm intrigued by the awkwardly-sounding cases that Cerberus mentions. – Nico Mar 7 '14 at 19:11
  • 1
    @Nico I'd agree with 'He woke up coughing' and 'She walked to the beach whistling', but there is a causality laughing ==> dying that makes the construction different (I almost died of laughing) (unless the usual meaning is not intended, when we have something akin to 'I almost died young'). Cerberus's (1) is an absolute -ing clause, probably a reduced when-clause. His (3) is arguably a phase structure (She continued provoking them is). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '14 at 20:53
  • 1
    Might I please be so forward as to courteously suggest that you consult this very strongly related question for some specific examples of this? I’m not certain your question is a perfect duplicate of that one, but it is unquestionably related. – tchrist Mar 8 '14 at 17:57
3

First, let me transfer to permanent storage some points I made in comments.

Spanish as you have observed uses the gerund a great deal: sometimes with auxiliaries, sometimes with verbs of motion, and sometimes with any verb whatsoever. In English, we using ‑ing words a lot, too, but not always in the same way.

I feel that using a Spanish gerund with an auxiliary verb is not so different from using it with any other verb, such as a verb of motion like andar, llegar, venir, salir “walk/go around, arrive, come, go out”. These verbs of motion better lend themselves to a near-identical treatment in English: Vino corriendo a verme “She came running to see me”, but verbs that are neither auxiliaries nor motion verbs do not so easily taking -ing verbs in English without some preposition or conjunction to connect them in an adverbial circumlocution.

The frequent need for a preposition or conjunction in English also derives from how in Spanish, a gerund is always an adverb, whereas in English, a gerund is by (rather useless) definition a noun, and when the ‑ing word is acting as a modifier be it adverbial or adjectival, (some) people tend to call it a participle instead.

Sometimes these are differences without distinction, and there are many circumstances when it is best simply to call it an ‑ing word and forget about gerunds vs participles.

Nonetheless, the “modifies a verb” aspect you seek is still more readily done in English with extra joining words, namely prepositions or conjunctions, then my direct attachment to verbs that are neither auxiliaries nor verbs of motion.


As I elsewhere wrote, these nuances can be tricky to convey in English; a word-for-word translation is almost always going to be too clumsy for practical use.

Sometimes adding an adverb is enough; other times a different verb is needed, or a different sort of periphrastic verb. The loose translations below are all meant to be idiomatic in casual, spoken English. In some cases I give more than one possibility because no one of them quite hits the nail the head.

For simplicity and consistency, I’ll use he for the implied third-person pronoun of Spanish, although of course she or you (formal), and sometimes even it, are all equally applicable, since in the general case and without further context, we cannot know whether the implied antecedent is él, ella, ello, or Usted.

Elements in square brackets are implied, but probably wouldn’t be included in most translations.

  • Está buscando piso.
    He’s looking for an apartment.
    (idea of unfolding action in general)

  • Anda buscando piso.
    He’s out looking for an apartment.
    He’s still looking for an apartment.
    He keeps looking for an apartment. (although sigue is better for keeps)
    (idea of repeated action)

  • Los precios van cayendo.
    Prices are falling.
    Prices have begun falling.
    Prices have started to fall.
    (idea of progressive action starting in the present)

  • Los precios vienen cayendo.
    Prices have been falling.
    (idea of progressive action that started in the past)

  • Sigue comiendo a las dos.
    He’s still eating [lunch] at 2 o’clock.
    (idea of persistent action)

  • Lleva dos años saliendo con Marta.
    He’s been going out with Marta for two years.
    (prolonged duration of an action that began in the past)

  • Salió corriendo del colegio.
    He took off running from [the [high]] school.
    All of a sudden, he left [the [high]] school at a run.
    (action that starts suddenly and then continues)

Progressiveness doesn’t always map between languages. For example, sometimes the sense of “ir a + infinitive” may be better translated into a progressive construct in English, even though it wasn’t one in Spanish.

For example and in particular, the initial “que voy a mencionar” from the previous question on the other SE site seems a better fit for “that I’ll be mentioning” instead of the more direct translation of “that I’m going to mention”. This demonstrates how the progressiveness aspect does not necessarily map one-to-one between the two languages.


For your specific examples, I might suggest these. Sometimes it’s best to treat the -ing verb as a noun in English and then use a preposition to connect it adverbially to the verb. In other cases, an actual subordinate clause might work better. Whether you wish to retain the progressive aspect is sometimes more of a matter of choice than a mandatory element.

Here are several takes on your own examples:

  • El alma es dichosa dando y sirviendo.
    The soul is blessed by giving and serving.
    Blessèd is the soul that gives and serves.

  • El niño anda bailando.
    The boy is out dancing.
    The boys goes around dancing.

  • El artista vive provocando emociones.
    The artist makes a living by provoking emotions.
    The artist lives through the provocation of emotions.

  • ¿Porqué hablas gritando?
    Why are you screaming?
    Why are you shouting when you talk?
    Why do you shout when you speak?
    Why do you talk by shouting?

There is no one right answer here. You need to know what seems idiomatic in the target language, which might require the addition of some other words that aren’t strictly verbs themselves.

  • 1
    One limitation that does seem to be at least almost a rule in English is with generic verbs (especially of motion and expression, I think) and more semantically narrow verbs that can be seen as ‘subgroups’ of the former. Where many languages are happy modifying a generic verb such as ‘run’ or ‘say’ with a narrower word such as ‘skipping’, or ‘shouting’, this doesn’t work in English—instead, you simply drop the generic verb altogether and use an inflected form of the narrower verb: “He ran skipping down the street” => “He skipped down the street”; “…, she said shouting” => “…, she shouted”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 8 '14 at 18:36
  • 1
    [cont’d] Or alternatively, you add a comma to make it clear that the participle acts as an adjective modifying the subject, rather than as an adverb modifying the verb: “He ran down the street, [and he was] skipping all the way”; “…, she said, [and she was] shouting at the top of her lungs”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 8 '14 at 18:39
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I hadn’t considered the “expression” verbs as a subtype that allows direct adverbials without the mediation of prepositions or conjunctions as can occur with verbs of motion. However you look at it, the Spanish view the gerund as an adverb in “Vino corriendo” but we in English see the corresponding word in “She came running” as serving a more adjectival function. It may stem from differences in the respective cultures’ histories of syntactic analysis: Latin’s ‑Vndo gerund whence the Spanish one derives took case endings where we’d need prepositions instead. – tchrist Mar 8 '14 at 18:49
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet I’ve never been 100% comfortable with the English tradition of calling the ‑ing words in “He took off running” noun-modifiers instead of verb-modifiers. It seems less than clear-cut to me. To me, running is more easily understood as modifying took off, not He, in that particular example. – tchrist Mar 8 '14 at 19:03
3

I would suggest using while or as if, depending on the intention of the sentence is important.

The addition of while makes all of them far more natural in English, especially if they are describing concurrent activities:

"The soul is happy while giving and serving." The artists lives while provoking emotions."

The original meaning in Spanish might not be about concurrency but actually a simile. In such cases, using as if works better:

"The boy walks as if dancing." "Why do you speak as if shouting?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.