Italian and English progressive gerund are different
Let’s see some examples
STARE + GERUNDIO
In this post we will take into consideration only the progressive use of the Italian Gerundio. Please read this other post in Italian to learn more in detail all the uses of stare + gerundio. For functions other than the progressive gerundio, please look at this post.
Cosa fa Laura?
- Sta guardando la tivù.
- Guarda la tivù
Laura is watching TV. That’s pretty much how one would describe this action in English, using the present progressive. Italian is different in this respect. We can use the simple present or the combination STARE + GERUNDIO.
The use of progressive tenses in Italian is very limited compared to English. We generally use the presente or imperfetto of stare and the gerund for building the present and past progressive.
- Sto facendo (= faccio) colazione.
- Mentre stavo facendo (= facevo) colazione, mi ha chiamato Marco.
While I was having breakfast, Marco called.
In Italian, I can say “mentre facevo…” or “mentre stavo facendo …” without changing the meaning of the sentence.
In English, one can use the present progressive to describe an action in the near future. Not in Italian.
- I’m having dinner with a friend tonight.
- Vado a cena con un’amica stasera. / Andrò a cena con un’amica stasera
In this case we can use the simple presente or the futuro. “Sto andando a cena con un’amica…” means only right now, in this precise moment.
Another significant difference is with the verb vivere / abitare:
- I am living in London now.
- Adesso abito a Londra
We do not say “Sto vivendo / abitando a Londra”. However, “Luigi sta vivendo un momento difficile” means that he’s going through difficult times. Vivendo here is more like experiencing.
On a completely different level, we do not use the stare + gerundio to mean that “We’ve been doing … / We had been doing …” something, for or since some time.
- I’ve been studying Italian for three years.
- Studio l’italiano da tre anni.
- David has been living in Rome since he was ten.
- David abita a Roma da quando aveva dieci anni.
- Viviana had been waiting for an hour when I arrived.
- Viviana aspettava / stava aspettando da un’ora quando sono arrivato.
There’s no “been / stato” here in Italian. As a native Italian speaker, when I have to use these structures in English, I find it very challenging. Italians use a simple present in combination with “da”, or the imperfetto / stavo + gerundio for the past instead.
Last note about the passive voice combined with the continuous tense as “… is being”. For example:
- My room is being painted.
- La mia stanza viene verniciata adesso.
In Italian we can’t say “è stando / sta stando”, it doesn’t make any sense. We may opt for the use of the verb venire instead of essere and maybe clarify that this is happening now, adesso. The easiest solution is to avoid the passive and the progressive together and say “Stanno verniciando la mia stanza”.
I decided to keep this post very simple. The stare + gerundio is more complex if we take into account other moods and tenses, such as the congiuntivo.
- Pensavo che Mario stesse lavorando.
Not today. Please ask questions in the comments.
That’s it for today. Alla prossima.
Painting: Francesco Hayez – La meditazione – 1848