Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish

What is verbal periphrasis in Spanish?

A verbal periphrasis (las perífrasis verbales), also known as a verbal structure, is a grammatical structure that consists of two or more verbs that take on a new meaning when used together.

Generally, these constructions are composed of an auxiliary verb in a conjugated form, a preposition connected to this verb and a main verb in an impersonal form, either the infinitive, participle or gerund. A verbal periphrasis can express the beginning, duration or end of an action as well as the intention behind it. One of the most common verbal structures in Spanish is ir a + infinitive, which is equivalent to the English structure be going to + infinitive.

Learn more about verbal periphrasis with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Estoy a punto de acabar mis deberes y voy a leer un rato. Después tengo que ir a clase de español. Suelo acudir dos veces por semana a la academia. Llevo estudiando en esa escuela tres años. Me gusta mucho mi profesora y tengo entendido que es una de las mejores del centro de idiomas.

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How to form verbal periphrasis in Spanish

In Spanish, verbal structures are composed of an auxiliary (help verb) that is conjugated to indicate the time and mood of the action. This can be followed by a preposition or a conjunction that comes before the main verb. The main verb then appears in an impersonal form (the infinitive, the participle or gerund).

Examples:
Esta tarde vamos a ir al cine con los primos.Tonight we are going to go to the cinema with our cousins.
Suelo acudir dos veces por semana a la academia.I normally go to the academy twice a week.

Types of Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish grammar

We can classify the verbal structures in Spanish into the following three categories: structures with the infinitive, structures with the gerund and structures with the participle.

List of verbal structures with the infinitive

Verbal structures with the infinitive are formed with auxiliary + infinitive. We can divide them into modal structures (perífrasis modales), which focus on manner, and temporal structures (perífrasis temporales), which focus on time. The majority of these structures require a connecting word between the auxiliary and the infinitive, usually a preposition or a conjunction.

In modal structures, the auxiliary expresses the attitude of the speaker (obligation, necessity, possibility etc.) while the infinitive expresses the action itself.

Meaning Structure Example
obligation


haber de infinitive Has de llegar puntual.You have to arrive on time.
haber que Hay que llegar puntual. (impersonal)You have to arrive on time./One has to arrive on time.
deber Debes llegar puntual.You must arrive on time.
obligation, necessity or deduction tener que Tengo que salir inmediatamente.I have to leave immediately.
Ese del sombrero tiene que ser el abuelo.That one in the hat must be the grandfather.
supposition deber de Debo de haber olvidado las llaves en casa.I must have forgotten my keys at home.
capability or permission poder Ya podéis pasar.You can come in now.

Temporal structures place the action in time and indicate habit and repetition. As shown in the table below, we can organise these structures according to when the action occurs.

Meaning Structure Example
just prior (about to)
estar por infinitive Estoy por cumplir los dieciocho años.I am about to turn eighteen.
estar a punto de La ceremonia está a punto de comenzar.The ceremony is about to start.
just after acabar de Acabo de encontrarme a Luis en la calle.I’ve just seen Luis in the street.
beginning of an action
empezar a La sala empezó a llenarse.The room started to empty out.
comenzar a Marcelo ha comenzado a estudiar farmacia.Marcelo has started to study pharmacology.
entrar a Tras el robó, la directora entró a sospechar de todos.After the robbery, the director started to suspect everyone.
sudden start of an action
echarse a Conté un chiste y todos se echaron a reír.I told a jok and everyone started laughing.
dar (a alguien) por A María le ha dado por hacer yoga.Maria fancied doing some yoga.
ponerse a A eso de las cuatro se ha puesto a llover.It started raining around four o’clock.
stopping of an action dejar de Con el nuevo trabajo dejé de tener crisis de estrés.Since I got the new job I’ve stopped being so stressed.
cesar de Los gatos no cesan de pedir atención.The cats never stop asking for attention.
parar de No ha parado de llover en todo el otoño.It hasn’t stopped raining all autumn.
duration
pasar a Tras explicar la lección, el profesor pasó a repartir las fichas de ejercicios.After explaining the lesson the teacher went on to pass out the exercise books.
tardar en Por el tráfico, tardamos en llegar más de una hora.It took us more than an hour to arrive because of the traffic.
end of an action terminar de El camarero terminó de traer las bebidas.The waiter stopped serving drinks.
repetition volver a Vuelve a hacer frío.It’s getting cold again.
habit
acostumbrar a Mario acostumbra a dar un paseo después de trabajar.Mario is used to going for a walk after work.
soler Suelo desayunar un café y tostadas.I usually have coffee and toast for breakfast.
impending action ir a Va a llover de un momento a otro.It’s going to rain any minute now.
result
llegar a Claudia llegó a mudarse por el escándalo de los vecinos.Claudia came to move because of the scandal with the neighbours.
venir a Tras la ola de calor, las plantas vinieron a secarse.The plants ended up drying out because of the heatwave.
acabar por Como era muy tarde, mi padre acabó por llevarme al aeropuerto.As it was very late, my dad ended up taking me to the airport.
terminar por A consecuencia del estrés familiar, terminó por cancelar la boda.As a result of the family stress, he ended up cancelling the wedding.

Structures with the gerund

Verbal structures with the gerund are formed with auxiliary + gerund. These structures give information about an action that is in progress. In these structures there is no connecting word (like a preposition) between the auxiliary and the gerund.

Meaning Structure Example
action in progress at the time of speaking
estar gerund
Estoy paseando por el parque.I am walking through the park.
andar Los vecinos andan haciendo reformas en la cocina.The neighbours are making reforms in the kitchen.
gradual progression of an action ir Los congresistas van llegando a la sala de reuniones.The delegates are arriving at the meeting room.
an action or situation that has been ongoing for a while
venir Javi viene poniendo excusas todo el verano.Javi has been making excuses all summer.
llevar Llevo trabajando en esta empresa más de cinco años.I’ve been working in this company for more than five years.
a continuous, repeated action (keep + ing) continuar El cartero continúa perdiendo las cartas.The postman keeps losing cards.
seguir Mi abuelo siguió jugando a la lotería después de haber ganado.My grandad kept playing the lottery after he had won it.
an action with a fixed duration pasar(se) En verano, me paso las horas tomando el sol en el jardín.In summer, I spend my time sunbathing in the garden.

Structures with the participle

Verbal structures with the participle are formed with auxiliary + participle. The participle always agrees in gender and number with the subject (with the verbs estar, quedar and andar) or with the direct object (with the verbs dejar, tener, dar por and llevar).

Meaning Structure Example
resultant state
estar participle
El suelo está mojado.The floor is wet.
dejar La crisis dejó arruinados a los inversores.The crisis left the investors ruined.
final state
quedar Todas las ventanas quedan cerradas.All the windows are closed.
tener Tengo guardada toda la ropa de invierno.I’ve got all my winter clothes in storage.
dar por El profesor dio por acabada la lección.The teacher considered the lesson to be finished.
quantity accumulated so far llevar Llevo hechas dos de las tres pizzas para la cena.I’ve made two of the three pizzas for dinner.
emotional states andar Mi hermana anda estresada con el trabajo.My sister is stressed out about her job.