Present and Past Continuous Tense in Italian

Sun, 04/11/2021 - 11:03

How do you say in Italian that something is taking place at the moment of speaking? In English this idea can be expressed with the use of the Present Continuous: “I am reading an article”, while in Italian it can be expressed both by normal present tense: “Leggo un articolo”, or by “presente progressivo”: “Sto leggendo un articolo”.

Though “Presente Progressivo” is the equivalent of the English “Present Continuous”, it has a more restricted use in Italian. 

In this article we’re going to see how to form a sentence with this tense, when to use it and what is “passato progressivo”.

To form “presente progressivo” in Italian you have to take the present tense of the auxiliary verb “stare” and place it before the gerund form of the main verb. Remember that the form of the auxiliary verb has to change according to the subject, thus:

(io) sto

(tu) stai

(lei/lui/Lei) sta          + gerund

(noi) stiamo

(voi) state

(loro) stanno 

But what is the gerund form of the verb? It’s formed by taking off the ending of the verb and adding:

-ando to the stem of verbs with –are:

camminare (to walk)   -   camminando (walking)

-endo to the stem of verbs with –ere and –ire:

scrivere (to write)  -  scrivendo (writing)

partire (to leave)  -  partendo (leaving)


- Dove stai andando? (Where are you going?)

- Sto andando a casa. (I’m going home.)

- Cosa sta facendo Giulia? (What is Giulia doing?)

- Sta leggendo un libro. (She’s reading a book.)

As to irregular verbs, they have special forms and the only ending is –endo for all of them, when they forma  gerund:

fare (to do) -  facendo (doing)

Sta facendo la doccia. (She’s taking a shower.)

dire (to say)  -  dicendo (saying)

Cosa state dicendo? (What are you saying?)

bere (to drink)  -  bevendo (drinking)

Stanno bevendo il latte. (They are drinking milk.)


As it’s already been mentioned, the Italian present continuous can nearly always be replaced by the normal present indicative, though it’s preferable to use “presente progressivo” when you need to emphasize, that the action is taking place right now, in the moment of speaking:

Francesca non può rispondere al telefono in questo momento, sta lavorando. (Francesca cannot answer the phone at this moment, she’s working.)

-Dove sono i bambini?  (Where are the kids?)

-Stanno facendo i loro compiti. (They’re doing their homework.)


Unlike the present progressive in English, the “presente indicativo” in Italian is only used to express actions in progress, but not the state of affairs. 

For example, you can say: “Anna is wearing her favorite red scarf.”, but you cannot say “Anna sta portando la sua preferita sciarpa rossa.” In such cases you should you the present indicative: “Anna porta la sua preferita sciarpa rossa”.

“Presente progressivo” can neither be used to express future actions, like it’s possible in English: “I’m going to call my sister tomorrow”. You cannot say “Sto chiamando mia sorella domani.”, instead you can say “Chiamo mia sorella domani.”, or use the Future Simple (Futuro indicativo): “Chiamerò mia sorella domani”.

The construction “stare + gerund” can also be used with the Imperfect to emphasize an idea, that something was taking place in the past at the time of speaking. This can be expressed by the imperfect tense of the auxiliary verb “stare” and the gerund of the main verb following it.

(io) stavo

(tu) stavi

(lei/lui/Lei) stava     +  gerund

(noi) stavamo

(voi) stavate

(loro) stavano 

“Stavo ascoltando la musica, quando qualcuno ha bussato alla porta”. (“I was listening to music, when someone knocked the door.”)

As you can see, the Imperfect Continuous emphasizes an action in the process that takes place in the past.

“Stavamo mangiando, quando abbiamo sentito qualcuno gridare.” (We were eating when we heard someone screaming.” 

Often, the Imperfect Continuous can be easily replaced by the Italian “Imperfetto”:

“Mangiavamo quando abbiamo sentito qualcuno gridare”.

Just like with the “presente progressivo”, the Imperfect Continuous in Italian cannot express a state of affairs in the past. For that, you should use the “Imperfetto”.

- Che cosa indossava? (What was she wearing?)

- Indossava un cappotto blu e un cappello di lana. (She was wearing a blue coat and a wool hat).

Now it’s your turn: 

Put the verbs in brackets into the gerund form:

Nadia sta [parlare] con la sua collega.Parlando
Stiamo [guardare] il telegiornale.Guardando
Stanno [preparare] da mangiare.Preparando
Cosa state [leggere]?Leggendo
Sto [cercare] i miei occhiali.Cercando

Now put the correct form of the present tense of stare in the gaps:

Elisa scrivendo una lettera.Sta
(Io) finendo un lavoro.Sto
Cosa facendo, ragazze?.State
(Noi)lavando i piattiStiamo
I bambini dormendo.Stanno

Now try to do both, use the correct form of stare and form the gerund of the verb in bracket:

Mario (ordinare) la pizza.Sta ordinando
(Io) (fare) la spesa.Sto facendo
Dove (voi) (correre)?State correndo
(Noi)(lavorare) a un nuovo progettoStiamo lavorando
Carla e Paola (giocare) con il gatto.Stanno giocando


Luckily, the “presente progressivo” and “passato progressivo” have a very limited use in the Italian language, so once you start implementing these two tenses in your speech daily, you will quickly get used to them and start to sound like a native! Keep up with your studies and stay with us to learn more about Italian grammar and useful vocabulary.


(Note: This article was originally written for Italy Magazine by Pat Eggleton on September 9th, 2010. It has been updated and expanded.)

This language article is curated by the expert instructors from L'Italiano Porticando Italian language and culture school located in the heart of historic Turin. Accredited by the ASILS (Association of Schools Teaching Italian as a Second Language), L'Italiano Porticando offers individual and group lessons, themed courses, and cultural classes on everything from Italian cinema to Turin’s famed chocolate.