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Portuguese Gerund: Progressive Tenses and Beyond

The Portuguese gerund (gerúndio) is used to build progressive tenses such as the present continuous – it is the equivalent of the English present participle, that is, the -ing verb form.

To form the Portuguese gerund you only need to replace the final -r of the infinitive form with the suffix ndo

InfinitiveGerund
-arpescar (fish)pescando (fishing)
-ercorrer (run)correndo (running)
-irsair (leave)saindo (leaving)

This applies to all verbs regardless of whether they are regular or irregular, or to which conjugation group they belong.

Besides progressive tenses, we use the gerund to express and articulate relationships of cause-effect, gradualness, simultaneity, and sequencing in both compound and complex sentences. 

Now, only Brazilian Portuguese uses the gerund to form progressive tenses. In the European standard, progressive tenses are normally formed in a different way. Read on.

! Portuguese vs. English Gerund

In English, the term “gerund” relates to a noun, not a verb (I love fishing). Where English uses the -ing form as a noun, Portuguese uses an infinitive instead (adoro pescar).

The “Portuguese gerund” (gerúdio), on the other hand, always corresponds to the English “present participle”, which is a verb form (I was fishing all day).  

Progressive tenses: European vs Brazilian Portuguese

Progressive tenses (aka continuous tenses) are used to express ongoing actions. In Portuguese, progressive tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb estar followed by the main verb. 

While in Brazilian Portuguese (BP) the main verb comes in the gerund form, the European standard (EP) uses the infinitive form preceded by the preposition a

Let me illustrate this for you in regard to three progressive tenses: the present, past, and future continuous.

Further reading tips! Learn more about how the Brazilian and European standards compare: European vs. Brazilian Portuguese – How Different Are They, Really?

Present continuous

In European Portuguese, the present continuous comprises the auxiliary verb estar conjugated in the present tense followed by the preposition a and the main verb in the infinitive.

In the Brazilian standard, on the other hand, the main verb is in the gerund form:

(EP) O Artur está a comer o almoço.
(BP) O Artur está comendo o almoço.
Arthur is eating lunch.

Past continuous

In European Portuguese, the past continuous is formed by the auxiliary verb estar conjugated in the past (imperfeito) * followed by the preposition a and the main verb in the infinitive.

The Brazilian standard, however, forms the past continuous with the auxiliary verb estar  conjugated in the past and followed by the main verb in the gerund form:

(EP) A Ana estava a tomar um duche.
(BP) A Ana estava tomando um duche.
Ana was taking a shower.

* There are two past simple tenses in Portuguese. Learn more about it in this article: Portuguese Perfect vs. Imperfect Tense: Know When to Use Which.

Future continuous

In European Portuguese, the future continuous is formed with the auxiliary verb estar conjugated in the future tense * and followed by the preposition a and the main verb in the infinitive form.

The Brazilian standard, on the other hand, forms the future continuous with the auxiliary estar conjugated in the future followed by the main verb in the gerund form:

(EP) Eles estarão a gravar o novo álbum durante o próximo ano.
(BP) Eles estarão gravando o novo álbum durante o próximo ano.
They will be recording the new album next year.

* Like in English, we can express future time in several. Learn more about Portuguese verbs:  Portuguese Verb Tenses and Moods Explained: A Usage Rundown Anchored to English.

Beyond progressive tenses

Besides progressive tenses, there are several situations in which we often use the Portuguese gerund, namely, to replace coordinating and subordinating conjunctions (be it single-word conjunctions or conjunctional phrases).

Accordingly, the Portuguese gerund is used to express and articulate relationships of cause-effect, gradualness, simultaneity, and sequencing. 

This might sound too abstract to you, am I right? 

Fear not. In fact, having a good command of English, you will find these uses of the Portuguese gerund quite intuitive. 

As you will soon see, whenever we use the Portuguese gerund, there is an analogous use of the present participle in English (the –ing form of the verb) –  this stable link between the two languages makes it easier to assimilate the use of the Portuguese gerund.

Now, let’s move on to look at concrete examples so that it all becomes more tangible. 

Sequenced actions

We often use the gerund to express two sequenced actions, one unfolding immediately after the other. 

Take the following sentence:

Ele entrou no quarto e fechou a porta.
He came into the room and closed the door.

Now, let’s use the gerund to express the same:

Ele entrou no quarto fechando a porta.
He came into the room closing the door.

Here’s another example:

Ela pegou num livro e sentou-se no sofá para o ler.
She picked up a book and sat on the sofa to read it.

With the gerund:

Ela pegou num livro sentando-se* no sofá para o ler.
She picked up a book sitting on the sofa to read it.  

* Note that the verb sit is reflexive in Portuguese (sentar-se). Compared to English, there’s an abundance of reflexive verbs in Portuguese. Learn more about them here: Portuguese Reflexive Verbs and Reflexive Pronoun Placement.

We also use the gerund to alternate between scenes. An example:

Os morcegos estão ativos durante a noite e dormem durante o dia.
Bats are active during the night and sleep during the day.

And now with the gerund:

Os morcegos estão ativos durante a noite dormindo durante o dia.
Bats are active during the night (while) sleeping during the day.

At times, we use the compound gerund – the auxiliary verb ter (Portuguese equivalent to have) conjugated in the gerund and followed by the past participle of the main verb. 

Let’s look at the following sentence:

Ela terminou todas as tarefas e foi para casa.
She completed all her tasks and went home.

Now using the compound gerund:

Tendo terminado todas as tarefas, ela foi para casa.
Having completed all her tasks, she went home.

Note that the use of the compound gerund fits into a more formal register and thus is rarely used in spoken language. 

Cause-effect sentences

The gerund is often used to introduce a cause in sentences denoting a cause-effect relationship. Take the following sentence:

A Elvira é muito culta e por isso é uma tutora muito competente.
Elvira is very well versed and she is, therefore, a very competent tutor.

Now using the gerund:

Sendo muito culta, a Elvira  é uma tutora muito competente.
Being very well versed, Elvira is a very competent tutor.

Here’re more examples with the gerund the being used to express the cause, or explain why somebody does something: 

Quando viu que não chovia saiu de casa.
When he realized it was not raining, he went outside.

(with gerund)
Vendo que não chovia, saiu de casa.
Realizing it was not raining, he left home.
Uma vez que não estava de acordo com os outros membros, ela deixou a equipa.
Since she wouldn’t agree with the other members, she left the team.

(with gerund)
Não estando de acordo com os outros membros ela deixou o grupo.
Not agreeing with the other members, she left the group.

Sometimes we also use the compound gerund to denote a cause-effect relationship:

Ele foi dar um giro depois de comer o almoço.
He went for a walk after eating lunch.

(compound gerund)
Tendocomido o almoço, ele foi dar um giro.
Having already eaten lunch, he went for a walk.

Again, the use of the compound gerund belongs to a more formal register.

Simultaneous actions (EP ≠ BP)

We often use the gerund in Brazilian Portuguese to express two actions unfolding at the same time. In the European standard, however, we use the infinitive form preceded by the preposition a (just like in the progressive tenses above).

Take for instance the following sentence:

O José jantou ao mesmo tempo que viu a sua telenovela preferida.
José ate dinner at the same time he watched his favorite soap opera.

And here’s a more concise way to imply simultaneity:

(EP) O José jantou a ver a sua telenovela preferida.
(BP) O José jantou vendo a sua telenovela preferida.
José ate dinner (while) watching his favorite soap opera.

Here are a couple more examples:

(EP) Um homem saiu de casa a gritar.
(BP) Um homem saiu de casa gritando.
A man ran out of his house screaming.

(EP) A Sónia magoou-se na perna a jogar futebol.
(BP) A Sónia magoou-se na perna jogando futebol.
Sónia hurt her leg while playing football.

Gradual unfolding

We often use gerunds to intensify the notion of continuity and gradualness. In that case, the gerund of the main verb is preceded by the auxiliary verb ir.

Take this sentence:

Os preços sobem todos os anos.
Prices go up every year.

Here’s the verb ir + gerund version (emphasizing gradualness):

Os preços vão subindo a cada ano.
Prices are going up year after year.

Here’s another example:

A saúde dele ficou mais debilitada à medida que envelheceu.
His health got weaker as he got older.

(with verb ir + gerund)
A saúde dele foi ficando mais debilitada à medida que foi envelhecendo.
His health started getting weaker as he started getting older.

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