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I am supposed to highlight verb phrases in a book for my Spanish II summer project. Does present progressive count, or is it considered something else, in a different category as verb phrases such as "puede hablar" or "tratar de comprender"?

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"estar + -ando/-endo" is a verb phrase just like "poder + infinitive" or "tratar de + infinitive," that is, unlike in English it is not considered to be a special tense in Spanish.

The technical name of the kind of verb phrases that indicate a specific moment of the action or state they refer to (beginning, duration, end) is perífrasis aspectual. Aspectual verb phrases can in turn be classified as follows, depending on the moment of the event they describe:

  • incoativas: comenzar a / ponerse a / echar a / empezar a / entrar a + infinitivo.

  • inminenciales: estar por / estar a punto + infinitivo.

  • continuativas: estar / andar / seguir + gerundio.

  • terminativas: terminar de / acabar de + infinitivo.

  • resultativas: llegar a + infinitivo.

  • reiterativas: volver a + infinitivo.

  • habituales: soler + infitinito.

Source: Manual de gramática del español, Ángela Di Tullio, 2da. Edición.

Another large group of verb phrases is that of perífrasis modales, which includes modal verbs like deber and poder.

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  • It's not considered a “special tense” in English either, at least from a linguistic point of view. It’s simply a progressive aspect, just like in "He came running to tell us something", which is in the past tense but with a progressive aspect. However, instructional materials for people learning the English language rather than professional work in linguistics are notorious for conflating not just tense, aspect, and mood but also periphrastic expressions by telling people that these are each somehow a separate “tense”. – tchrist Aug 13 '17 at 16:16
  • Contrasting this, Spanish philology and pedagogy normally consider a separate “tense” any finite verb conjugated for person and number via morphological inflection of a given stem, no matter whether it’s completed or continuing, indicative or subjunctive, etc. The Spanish use is closer to the one preferred by formal linguistics than simplistic English training materials for learners presents things, but there is still some combination of aspect and mood here. If you'd like to incorporate any of this is in your fine answer, it spares me from answering it myself. :) – tchrist Aug 13 '17 at 16:20
  • @tchrist I see your point, but let me tell you that it's not only the authors of instructional material that speak of the present progressive -- Quirk also does. – Gustavson Aug 13 '17 at 16:28
  • But isn’t Quirk calling it a construction rather than a “tense” in its own right? – tchrist Aug 13 '17 at 16:29
  • @tchrist On page 189 of his grammar, Quirk says: Aspect is so closely connected in meaning with tense, that the distinction in English grammar between tense and aspect is little more than a terminological convenience which helps us to separate in our minds two different kinds of realization: the morphological realization of tense and the syntactic realization of aspect. He then posts a table including the present perfective (simple), the present progressive (simple) and the present perfective progressive. Comparison is made throughout between the different forms of the present in English. – Gustavson Aug 13 '17 at 17:09

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