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Please take a look at the following sentence taken out of a passage I was reading on 'Curiosamente':

... conforme los pueblos se fueron dispersando, las lenguas se fueron diversificando.

Here the (past) progressive tense obviously takes "ser(fueron)" as its main verb, and it makes me wonder if this is actually a common practice.

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    I'm spanish and I use it a lot, I see this a lot when reading, so I would say, from experience yes, it is a common practice – Iria Feb 26 at 14:15
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That is not "ser" + gerund (which has no meaning), but "ir" + gerund. In the present tense, we would say:

... conforme los pueblos se van dispersando, las lenguas se van diversificando.

Unlike "estar" + gerund, which merely implies that the action was taking place at a given time, "ir" + gerund means that an incremental change was taking place. The difference is usually subtle, and they may even be interchangeable at times. For instance, there is little difference between

Los pueblos se fueron dispersando y las lenguas se fueron diversificando.

and

Los pueblos se estuvieron dispersando y las lenguas se estuvieron diversificando.

As "dispersarse" and "diversificarse" are incremental changes (they got more and more scattered over time), "ir" + gerund is preferred, but "estar" + gerund can be used, too.

In this case, however:

... conforme los pueblos se fueron dispersando, las lenguas se fueron diversificando.

This means that two different incremental changes were correlated: The peoples were getting more and more scattered over time, and the more scattered they got, the more different the languages became from each other.

As the example is specifically talking about the relationship between incremental changes, "ir" + gerund is mandatory here.

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  • Thanks a lot! As a matter of fact, I already know this grammar point, but when I was reading this text, it somehow escaped me. I guess my level is still too low to really enjoy any Spanish linguistic sensitivity. Anyway, thank you again for this very detailed and insightful explanation! – Jaden Wong Feb 27 at 9:45

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