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I was wondering - what could be the best ways to express actions that began in the past, but are still continuing in the present?

In English you would say "I have been doing this", meaning it was started in the past, but is still continued.

As I saw, there are no separate tense in Spanish for this. Except 2 ways with using word "hace".

So, for an English sentence: "I have been studying Spanish for 6 months" you could use:

  • Estudio español desde hace seis meses

  • Hace seis meses que estudio español

Is it the most preferred way of saying this?

What if you would like to say the same, but without mentioning period (6 months), meaning that hacer cannot be used?

Would you use simple present for this case (I study = I have been studying)?

  • Even if «Estudio español desde hace seis meses» and «Hace seis meses que estudio español» are correct if you want to use the same form in Spanish for «I have been studying Spanish for 6 months» you should say «He estado estudiando español por 6 meses» o «he estado estudiando español los últimos 6 meses» or «he estado estudiando español desde hace 6 meses» In any case use «He estado» for «I have been» – DGaleano Aug 14 '19 at 20:47
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There are several ways to translate this idea.

The literal, grammatically closest way, is using the pattern for progressive actions (ser + gerund) with the auxiliary in the perfect:

He estado estudiando español por seis meses.

(there are many alternatives to express the time period, as already noted in the other answers).

A more idiomatic way is to use llevar + gerund:

Llevo seis meses estudiando español.

(Note how the time period expression takes the place of the direct object of the verb llevar.)

A bit more restricted and possibly dialectal is to use tener + gerund:

Tengo seis meses estudiando español.

And then, using a slightly different pattern as he estado..., you have venir + gerund:

Vengo estudiando español (desde) hace seis meses.

I would say that for the most part you should stay with llevar + period + gerund or else venir + gerund + (desde) hace + period. These are both idiomatic and euphonic.

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  • This answer is very complete and thorough but it reminds me a bit of an early experience I had as a learner. I was in a friend's kitchen and I pointed to her apron and asked her for a word for it. She gave me three options. Once I convinced her to teach me one word at a time for things, we were off and running. I do like what you contributed about how the time period expression became the object of llevar. – aparente001 Aug 15 '19 at 12:48
  • I now got this clear. Thank you all very much for thorough explanation! – Alex Aug 16 '19 at 19:34
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The most idiomatic (natural) way to express this is:

  • LLevo seis meses estudiando el español.

Definition of llevar (Collins):

  1. (indicando tiempo)
    a. (= haber estado) to be
    ¿cuánto tiempo llevas aquí? how long have you been here? llevo horas esperando aquí I’ve been waiting here for hours el tren lleva una hora de retraso the train is an hour late llevo tres meses buscándolo I have been looking for it for three months

I now see that you also asked

What if you would like to say the same, but without mentioning period (6 months), meaning that hacer cannot be used?

Here are some common ways of approaching this:

  • Llevo tiempo estudiando el español. | I've been studying Spanish for a while.

  • Llevo rato estudiando el español. | I've been studying Spanish for a while.

    This one, with rato, has a very vernacular sound. I can't vouch for this working beyond Mexico, however.

  • Llevo [un] buen rato estudiando el español. | I've been studying Spanish for quite some time.

A technically correct but awkward option:

  • He estado estudiando el español.

It becomes much less awkward as soon as a time period is specified, e.g.

  • He estado estudiando el español por dos semestres, y ahora me siento listo/lista para hacer un semestre en el extranjero. ¿Qué opina Ud.? |I have been studying Spanish for two semesters, and now I feel ready to do a semester abroad. What do you think, sir/ma'am?

However, it would still be more idiomatic to use "Llevo dos semestres estudiando el español" in this example.

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Even if «Estudio español desde hace seis meses» and «Hace seis meses que estudio español» are correct there is another way to translate «I have been» and it is «he estado»

So to translate «I have been studying Spanish for 6 months» you could say:
- He estado estudiando español por 6 meses,
- He estado estudiando español los últimos 6 meses
- He estado estudiando español desde hace 6 meses

If you don't want to mention the 6 months period you could use the same form

  • I have been studying Spanish = He estado estudiando español

In any case use «He estado» for «I have been» where «he» is the verb «haber=have» and «estado» is the verb «estar=to be»

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  • 2
    Also available is llevo estudiando instead of he estado precisely for the idea of something that started in the past and continues onward into the present (and presumably future) – user0721090601 Aug 14 '19 at 21:16

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