Translating Is Easy If...

Translating Is Easy If… The Gerund in ES (I)

Translating is easy if… we don’t take into account certain aspects that are essential to deliver a good quality translation. Those aspects are the ones competent translators learn how to take care of through academic training or through professional experience. Between English and Spanish, and of course between other language pairs too, translating is easy if we don’t pay attention to, for example, false friends or idioms, to how the gerund translates into the target language, or to how punctuation rules vary between the two language systems. It’s easy if we don’t care about language varieties: US Spanish, Latin American Spanish or European Spanish. So yes, the rendition of a text into another language can be pretty easy, yet of poor quality. And that being the case, there will be fewer, if not zero, chances that the translated text will fulfil the intended communicative effects.

Translating is easy if… is my series of posts for which I gather and share information about language and translation on a regular basis. So here it goes… the second post!

For this other post of the series, I decided to review a topic that is crucial when translating from English into Spanish: the gerund and its recommended and correct uses in Spanish. I won’t be able to cover all cases and uses this time, so I’m planning to deliver a subsequent post with more info later this month.

First Things First… The Gerund: Definition

The gerund is a non-finite verb form that in Spanish can be recognised by its endings –ando for verbs like amar, caminar and –iendo or -yendo for verbs like temer, leer, ir, partir; and by the ending -ing in English, like in eating, studying and driving. In Spanish, which is the main topic of concern in this revision, this non-finite form of the verb can be simple (recorriendo) or complex (habiendo recorrido).

The Gerund – Incorrect Vs Correct Uses – EN > ES Translation

1. According to grammar rules, the gerund should not be used to refer to an action that takes place after the action signalled by the main verb. In Spanish, one of the correct uses of the simple gerund is to refer to an action that extends in time or is not completed, and that happens simultaneously or immediately before the finite verb of the sentence in which it appears. Let’s consider the following examples:

NOT RECOMMENDED: “El hombre huyó al percatarse de la presencia policial, siendo arrestado más tarde”. (Taken from

RECOMMENDED: El hombre huyó al percatarse de la presencia policial y fue arrestado más tarde.

Similar to this case, these are other examples of correct and incorrect uses taken from El uso del verbo y del gerundio en español, by Alicia María Zorrilla:If we say “siendo arrestado,” we are using the gerund for an action that is a consequence or effect and that happens after “huyó,” the main verb. It constitutes an unhappy use :).

  1. Salió de casa, cayéndose en la esquina. > Salió de casa y se cayó en la esquina.
  2. Entró al teatro, sentándose en la tercera fila. > Entró al teatro y se sentó en la tercera fila.
  3. Cruzaron la llanura, perdiéndose en el bosque. > Cruzaron la llanura y se perdieron en el bosque.

However, (and this might be quite tricky) if the gerund refers to an action that takes place immediately after the action of the main verb, the use is considered correct. For example:

Se fue de la casa dando un portazo. (Immediately after: “dando un portazo” happens right after the action of leaving the house and does not represent a consequence or effect of the act of leaving.)

  • When it comes to EN > ES translation, if we have sentences like the following…

A ferocious tsunami spawned by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control.” (Taken from CBS News.)

Uno de los terremotos más intensos de los que se tienen registro desencadenó el devastador tsunami que azotó la costa este de Japón el viernes y dejó cientos de muertos al arrasar barcos, autos y casas, en tanto los incendios se propagaban fuera de control.

…the correct way to translate the English gerund into Spanish is not by means of a literal translation with another gerund. Instead of saying something like “matando a cientos de personas,” it’s better to say dejó.

2. From the syntactic point of view, the gerund functions as an adverb. Therefore, another case that needs close attention can be found when the gerund  is mistakenly used as an adjective modifying a noun. Instead of the non-finite verb, we need to use a subordinate sentence, like in the following example:

NOT RECOMMENDED:No se me quita de la cabeza la fotografía del senador leonés que deposita junto al presidente del Gobierno, Mariano Rajoy, una bolsa, que se me antojó de papel, conteniendo un casco de minero.” (Taken from El País.)

RECOMMENDED: No se me quita de la cabeza la fotografía del senador leonés que deposita junto al presidente del Gobierno, Mariano Rajoy, una bolsa, que se me antojó de papel y que contenía un casco de minero.

More related examples found in El uso del verbo y del gerundio en español:This inappropriate use of the gerund is seen in many translations from French and English: Gallicisms or Anglicisms. In EN > ES translations, a similar sentence to the previous not recommended example may come from a source text like “a box containing many letters.” In such a case, the correct translation would be “una caja que contiene muchas cartas” or “una caja de cartas.”

  1. Ya no hay niños obedeciendo a sus padres. > Ya no hay niños que obedecen a sus padres.
  2. Se necesita secretaria hablando alemán. > Se necesita secretaria que hable alemán.
  3. No escriba el libro tratando ese tema. No escriba un libro que trate ese tema.

In all these examples, the gerund is replaced by a subordinate clause.

And as usual, if there is a rule, there’s an exception. There are two gerunds that can function as adjectives in Spanish and the use is correct: ardiendo and hirviendo.

  • Examples: No se debe usar agua hirviendo para cebar el mate. Echó el asado a la parrilla ardiendo.

More cases in which the gerund used as an adjective is considered correct:

  1. At the bottom of pictures, engravings and photos the gerund as adjective is correct because the it refers to the action taking place. It’s called gerundio epigráfico: e.g., Niño jugando a la pelota. El actor saludando a los fanáticos.
  2. For the titles of stories (action in progress): Un príncipe buscando su reino.


1. Use the simple gerund to refer to an action that happens simultaneously or immediately before the action of the finite verb in the sentence where it appears.

2. Don’t use it as an adjective qualifying a noun. See exceptions ;).

The next post of Translating is easy if… will be about the translation of including > incluyendo?! Controversial issue!

Finally, I hope that this second post is useful for colleagues, students of Spanish and anyone interested in language and translation. It’s been really useful for me to review the topic, organise concepts on a post and gather all the info.

For further Reading:

References and credits:

  1. Alicia María Zorrilla. El uso del verbo y del gerundio en español. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Litterae, 2011. Print.
  2. Picture credit: Victoria Principi (Pisa, Italy)

Published by Victoria Principi

Victoria Principi
Victoria Principi is a National Public Translator of English who graduated from the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. She translates, localises and reviews texts between English and Spanish, specialising in marketing and business, information and communications technology, and social sciences and humanities. She is a member of IAPTI and has been working as an independent translator since 2012. Currently, she is based in Lucca, Italy, and helps translation agencies and end clients who need to reach a Spanish-speaking audience. She is the creator of this website and the author of the blog.

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