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I'm confused about how to form the present continuous tense for the verb sentar.

I want to say The boys are sitting describing the continuous action of sitting, what they are doing right now at this present moment.

First I thought:

Los niños están sentados. - The boys are sitting.

But as sentado is an adjective, this is really describing a state of being seated, not a continuous action.

Then I thought:

Los niños se están sentando. - The boys are sitting down.

But this is describing the action of moving from a previous state to a state of being seated. It doesn't describe the action of continuously sitting.

  • It's not clear what you're asking here. Are you sure that your sentence makes sense in English? You can not be continuosly "sitting", what are you exactly doing? As you have state "sitting (down)" is a transitory state from "a previous state to the state of being seated". In Spanish your second sentence syntax and meaning are completely correct. – RubioRic Jul 24 '19 at 9:54
  • "...you cannot be continuously sitting" I'm not sure I understand that statement, because I think you can. – Spanish beginner Jul 24 '19 at 10:07
  • @walen Well, it seems that there's practically not difference in English, at least according to this answer in our sister site ell.stackexchange.com/a/16801/48962 The main difference pointed between them is that "seated" got a passive nuance – RubioRic Jul 24 '19 at 11:37
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"continuous action of sitting" → There's the problem.

In Spanish you are expected to use the gerund for ongoing actions:

The boys are playing golf. → Los niños están jugando al golf.
The boys are having an argument. → Los niños están discutiendo.
The boys are running. → Los niños están corriendo.

And you want to express "sitting" as an ongoing action. But is it, though?

You don't have to do anything to stay seated. You just sit down and that's it.
In English, you say that you are "sitting" there, but you are not really actively sitting; it is just your current state. And as such a state, in Spanish we use estar + adjective to describe it: estar sentado.

So the right translation would be: Los niños están sentados.

This is one of those instances where the language constructs we use to express concepts may have shaped our abstract thinking and our perception of reality. But that's a whole 'nother story.

There's one scenario in which we may see sitting as an ongoing action, which is when you do it as part of a protest / demonstration. Here, you are actively protesting something by sitting down in some public place, and in Spanish we'd use the gerund again to say that you estás haciendo una sentada.

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    I think the issue here is that the verbs sentar(se) and to sit (down) aren't 100% equivalent. There are plenty of verbs that can describe a state or a concrete action in both languages — take saber (state = to possess knowledge, action = to find out/learn). To sit is one of those in English, but sentar in Spanish is action only. – user0721090601 Jul 24 '19 at 10:21
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    «ayer supe lo que van a hacer aquí» significa «ayer me enteré de lo que van a hacer» y no «ayer tuve conocimiento de lo que van a hacer» (¿acaso ya no lo tengo jaja?). En inglés «I am sitting (down)» (con o sin partícula) es perfectamente ambiguo entre sentarse y estar sentado, si bien casi siempre refiere a lo que en castellano sería «estoy sentado». El OP reconoce que en castellano el verbo refiere solo al movimiento, por eso le llega la confusión de como expresar la continuidad de la primera oración (sentido «estar sentado») con el verbo sentarse (debe usar, pues, estar sentado) – user0721090601 Jul 24 '19 at 11:35
  • I was pretty sure "sentada" isn't a gerund; I checked and confirmed: dle.rae.es/?id=J9jq94P|J9k4n78 – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 3:08
  • Ah, I understand that sentence now, thanks. // I don't think you are using the term gerund correctly. I think gerund refers to the -ing, -ando, -endo form being used as a noun. – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 14:53
  • Gracias por el enlace. Esa manera de ver el gerundio es muy diferente a la que se hace en inglés. Mira por ejemplo lexico.com/en/definition/gerund, que dice, "A verb form which functions as a noun, in Latin ending in -ndum (declinable), in English ending in -ing (e.g. asking in do you mind my asking you?)." – aparente001 Jul 26 '19 at 16:50
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According to the answers provided to this question about the difference between "be seated" and "be sitting" in our sister site, it seems that there's practically none in English but a passive nuance and a sense of assignment in the first case "be seated".

Let me quote the answers provided by SF and BobRodes there

"Sitting" is dubiously "an activity", so the distinction is pretty much non-existent [...] There is no practical difference [SF]

If you are seated somewhere, it has the implication that you are sitting in a place where you were assigned to sit in some way [BobRodes]

Sitting is not an activity, that's what I meant when I said in my comment that you can not be "continuously" sitting.

In Spanish if I'm in a final state, if I've already "bent the knees and parked the posterior somewhere" then estoy sentado. If I'm bending my knees but I haven't finalized the movement, I've not parked completely my posterior, then estoy sentandome.

Los niños están sentados = The boys are sitting = The boys are seated
Los niños están sentados = The boys are seated

You have practically a worb by word translation between the sentences.

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  • Would you mind including a link to the page you're quoting from? – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 3:09
  • @aparente001 The link is already included. Just click in "this question" – RubioRic Jul 25 '19 at 3:35
  • Oh jeesh, how did I miss that? Thank you. – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 3:36
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That would be "Los chicos están sentados".

"Los niños se están sentando" would mean that they are in the process of sitting down.

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  • The question was editted. At first it was "Los chicos están sentado", which is wrong. – Abel Jul 24 '19 at 10:03
  • Welcome to the site Abel. If the original question was edited and made parts of your answer unclear or no longer relevant, you should edit your question. I think you should explain a little bit more. Maybe you could add more about why the option you proposed is the best to convey what the OP is looking for ("the action of continuously sitting"). Remember, it may be clear to you, but it may not be so clear to other who are learning Spanish. A good answer explains the why of the things. We are not trying to solve people's problems, we are trying to teach. – Diego Jul 24 '19 at 14:25
  • @diego and Abel - I think Diego meant to say If the question changes, you should edit your answer. // Well, personally, I try to teach, and solve people's problems. // Welcome to the site, Abel. I think your answer is helpful. (Also, it wouldn't hurt to expand on it a bit.) – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 3:02
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First, I'll answer a related question that you didn't explicitly ask, just to make sure that part is clear, and then I'll address what you actually asked.

How is "The boys are dialing the number now" expressed in Spanish?

There are three ways:

  1. Los muchachos marcan el número ahora.

  2. Los muchachos están marcando el número ahora.

  3. Los muchachos están en el proceso de marcar el número ahora.

In the right context, #1 will be equivalent to the present continuous tense in English. #2 makes the continuous (right-now) nature of the action unambiguous. And #3 emphasizes the right-now-ness to the maximum.

Applying this now to the verb "sentarse":

  1. Los niños se sientan.

  2. Los niños están sentándose. // Los niños se están sentando.

  3. Los niños están en el proceso de sentarse.

Typically there's no ongoing action -- you're either seated, or you're upright. So the meaning of these three sentences is about the change of state, going from uprightness to seatedness.

But I can imagine a situation where I might describe some people who are involved in an extended sitting down process, for example when boarding a transatlantic flight. They will make various adjustments, to get comfy, and to get just the right balance of stuff in one's lap, vs. stuff stowed safely in the overhead compartment.

(Note that "tomar asiento" [taking a seat] is a more natural and common way of talking about sitting down.)

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  • Eh, you have answered twice, haven't you? – RubioRic Jul 25 '19 at 5:46
  • @RubioRic - Thanks for pointing that out. I've deleted the other one. – aparente001 Jul 25 '19 at 14:56

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