The present progressive in Italian

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that we have to report on what we’re doing right now! If you want to describe what’s going on, whether online or in person, you’ll need to learn the Italian present progressive. Here, you will find the basic grammar skills you’ll need to build the progressive tense in Italian and use it in everyday conversation or writing.
the present progressive in italian
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What is the present progressive?

If you need to say something that is happening right now, you’ll need to use the present progressive in Italian (presente progressivo).

It is equivalent to the English verb ending “-ing” when used with the present tense of “to be,” as in “I am walking.”

Because this is a fairly common tense; you should be able to memorize the conjugations right away.

The disadvantage is that it is not as commonly used as the other Italian tenses; you should only use this tense for things that are happening at this moment.

When talking about the present, you usually just use the ordinary present tense.

That’s why, before moving on to the present progressive, it’s a good idea to understand the regular and irregular present tense conjugations and their functions.

This Italian lesson will assume you’ve done so and are familiar with the Italian subject pronouns (io — I, tu — you, and so on).

The present progressive tense is also known as the present continuous, and the main verb in this form is also known as a gerund.

Learn more about the gerund here.

How to form the progressive tense in Italian?

The Italian present progressive is made up of two separate parts: the present indicative of the auxiliary verb stare, and the Italian gerund (the present participle) of the verb.

The Italian verb ‘Stare‘ is conjugated as follows:

io sto
tu stai
lui/lei sta
noi stiamo
voi state
loro stanno

But what about the gerund? No worries. It’s simple, just as in English.

Verbs ending in -are form the gerund by adding the suffix -ando to the root of the verb, for example:

  • giocare (to play) – giocando
  • lavorare (to work) – lavorando
  • parlare (to talk) – parlando

Verbs ending in -ere/-ire form the gerund by adding the suffix -endo to the root of the verb form, like:

  • leggere (to read) – leggendo
  • ridere (to laugh) – ridendo
  • venire (to go) – venendo
  • dormire (to sleep) – dormendo

More examples:

Sto cercando il mio portafogli.

I’m looking for my wallet.

(Loro) Stanno giocando a calcio.

They’re playing football.

(Lui) Sta leggendo.

He’s reading.

(Loro) Stanno dormendo.

They’re sleeping.

Cosa stai facendo?

What are you doing?

Perche’ non state ridendo?

Why aren’t you laughing?

Like other Italian sentences, if the subject pronoun is obvious from the context, you don’t have to say it.

The only irregular verbs are the three listed below:

  • Fare (to do/make)- facendo
  • Dire (to tell)- dicendo
  • Bere (to drink)- bevendo

Cosa stai dicendo?

What are you saying?

Stiamo facendo i biscotti.

We are making cookies.

Marco sta bevendo del vino.

Marco is drinking some wine.

Reflexive verbs can also have a progressive form. In this case, the reflexive pronouns can be put either before the verb stare or attached to the gerund.

It is more common, though, to place them before stare.

Io mi sto divertendo.

I’m having fun.

Ti stai divertendo?

Are you having fun?

Maria ed io ci stiamo annoiando.

Maria and I are getting bored.

When to use the present progressive in Italian?

Before using the progressive tense, ask yourself: do I want to highlight that this action is taking place right now?

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For instance, I could say:

Che stanno facendo?

What are they doing?

This would not be a way for me to ask about what they do for fun or a living. I want to know what they are doing right now.

The question could be viewed as more urgent or worried than if I had asked:

Che fanno?

What are they doing?/What do they do?

Both translations are possible. This question may have the same meaning as Che stanno facendo? above.

But depending on the context, it may also lead to more general questions about what they do in general (in life, what they enjoy, etc.).

It’s important to remember that you don’t use the present continuous to talk about the near future, as you would in English with a statement like “I’m going to the shopping mall tomorrow.”

Talking about the future in Italian requires the use of different future tenses (typically the future indicative), find out more about it here.

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

Key points

In Italian, only use the present progressive for actions that are taking place right now.

To make it, use the present simple tense of stare and the gerund of the main verb.

Remember to check out also how to form the counterpart past tense in Italian.

Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!

Maria

I was born in Italy but after graduating from University I decided to travel around the world. I loved Asia and that’s why I decided to move, first to South Korea and then to China where I am currently working as a teacher.

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