Spanish modal verbs in progressive tenses

Learn how to use Spanish modal verbs in progressive tenses

Modal verbs can be used with progressive tenses in Spanish, the same way as in English, e.g "I should be working" or "She could be watching TV now"

The modal verb is conjugated in the required tense and then followed by "estar" and the present participle form of the main verb.

conjugated modal verb + estar + present participle of main verb 

Remember that it is always "estar" with progressive tenses (not ser) in the infinitive (estar; not conjugated).

Here are some examples:

Mis hijos querían estar jugando con los otros niños en el parque.My kids wanted to be playing with the other kids in the park.

Necesitamos estar vigilando a los estudiantes constantemente.We need to be monitoring the students continuously.

Ahora mismo podríamos estar disfrutando de nuestras vacaciones en Canarias.Right now we could be enjoying our holiday in the Canary Islands.

Ustedes deberían estar esperando en la sala.You should be waiting in the room.

No sé lo que debes estar pensando pero pareces muy serio.I don't know what you must be thinking but you look very serious.

Tuvimos que estar animando a Clara un rato; estaba tan triste...We needed to spend time cheering Clara up [lit: needed to be cheering up]; she was so sad...

Podéis estar jugando en la tableta hasta las 9.You can continue playing [lit: can be playing] on the tablet until 9.

No podíamos estar haciendo ruido porque había un examen en el aula de al lado.We couldn't make noise [lit: be making noise] because there was an exam in the classroom next door.

 

Notice how after the conjugated modal verb we always use "estar + present participle".

Never use ser in progressive tenses; this is incorrect:

  • Tuvimos que ser animando a Clara un rato.
  • No sé lo que debes ser pensando.

Bear in mind that in English the literal translation is not always possible with a modal verb and a progressive tense. See for example:

Podéis estar jugando en la tableta hasta las 9.You can continue playing [lit: can be playing] on the tablet until 9.

In this case it doesn't sound natural to say "you can be playing".

 

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Examples and resources

Mis hijos querían estar jugando con los otros niños en el parque.My kids wanted to be playing with the other kids in the park.
No podíamos estar haciendo ruido porque había un examen en el aula de al lado.We couldn't make noise [lit: be making noise] because there was an exam in the classroom next door.
Ustedes deberían estar esperando en la sala.You should be waiting in the room.
Podéis estar jugando en la tableta hasta las 9.You can continue playing [lit: can be playing] on the tablet until 9.
No sé lo que debes estar pensando pero pareces muy serio.I don't know what you must be thinking but you look very serious.
Tuvimos que estar animando a Clara un rato; estaba tan triste...We needed to spend time cheering Clara up [lit: needed to be cheering up]; she was so sad...
Ahora mismo podríamos estar disfrutando de nuestras vacaciones en Canarias.Right now we could be enjoying our holiday in the Canary Islands.
Necesitamos estar vigilando a los estudiantes constantemente.We need to be monitoring the students continuously.
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