La perífrasis verbal

Verbal periphrasis

In Spanish we use verbal structures (also known as verbal periphrasis) which are formed by:

A conjugated auxiliary verb + an infinitive/a present participle/a past participle

Sometimes these structures have a preposition, a conjunction or a group of words working as connectives after the auxiliary verb and they form part of the whole structure so they cannot be omitted or they won't make sense, or it will change the meaning.

Some examples of basic verbal periphrases are:

  • Estar + present participle (to be doing [something])

Carmen está  bailando con Andrés
Carmen is dancing with Andrés

está (auxiliary verb conjugated) and bailando (-ing form)

  • Ir + a + infinitive (to be going to do [something])

Carmen va a bailar con Andrés 
Carmen is going to dance with Andrés

va (auxiliary verb conjugated), preposition a, and bailar (infinitive)

  • Tener + que + infinitive (to have to do [something])

Carmen tiene que bailar con Andrés 
Carmen has to dance with Andrés

tiene  (auxiliary verb conjugated), que, and bailar (infinitive)

  • Soler + infinitive (to usually do [something])

Carmen suele bailar con Andrés 
Carmen usually dances with Andrés

suele (auxiliary verb conjugated) and bailar (infinitive)

Some more advanced verbal periphrasis are:

  • Acabar de + infinitive (to just do [something])
Acababa de llegar cuando llamaste por teléfono.
I had just arrived when you called.
  • Empezar a + infinitive (to start to do [something])
Había empezado a estudiar cuando me interrumpieron.
I had started to study when I was interrupted.
  • Dejar de + infinitive (to stop doing [something])

Ellos dejaron  de fumar hace dos meses.
They stopped smoking two months ago.

  •  Estar a punto de + infinitive (to be about to do [something])

La pequeña está  a punto de llorar.
The little girl is about to cry.

  • Llevar + past participle (to have done [something])

Lleva  leídas 38 páginas.
She has read 38 pages.

Verbal periphrasis sometimes expresses the progression of an action (estar + present participle), sometimes obligation (tener que + infinitive), and it can also express the beginning of an action (empezar a + infinitive), etc.

Spanish verbal periphrasis works in a similar way to phrasal verbs in English (to get up, to cross over, to get down, to show up...). However, phrasal verbs do not need a second non-conjugated verb form (an infinitive, a present participle or a past participle) right after them. 

It is important not to omit the preposition or group of words in between the two parts of the structure, as well as using the right non-conjugated form (infinitive, present participle or past participle) as this could change the meaning of some of the verbal periphrasis.

Have a look:

Terminó de  estudiar.
She finished studying.

Terminó estudiando.
She ended up studying.

Llevo hechos 12 pasteles.
I have baked 12 cakes.

Llevo haciendo pasteles toda la mañana.
I have been baking cakes all morning.

 To see how these verbal structures are classified, you can watch this video in Spanish:


Clever stuff happening!