Unit 8.1

Verbal Periphrasis

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Introduction

A verbal periphrasis [perífrasis verbal] is a grammatical construction consisting of two or more verbs that function as one sentence. In these cases, the personal auxiliary verb (conjugated) is joined to another non-personal auxiliary verb with neither gender nor number (it can be infinitive, gerund or participle).

There are two main types of verbal phrases: infinitive [infinitivo] and gerund [gerundio].

Form

Verb periphrases are constructions that are formed using auxiliary verbs.

Verb periphrases usually have this formula:
Auxiliary verb + infinitive/gerund/participle + …

In verbal periphrases, there is a predominance of alternation in the placement of the pronoun. In other words, pronouns can be placed before or after verbal periphrases.

They can be joined with two impersonal forms of the verb, giving two types of periphrasis: infinitive and gerund periphrases.

Infinitive

They are classified into the following subtypes/subcategories:

  • aspectual periphrases, i.e. pertaining or relating to the aspect:
    • acabar de:
      (Subject +) Acabar de + infinitive + …;
    • comenzar a:
      (Subject +) Comenzar a + infinitive + …;
    • empezar a:
      (Subject +) Empezar a + infinitive + …;
    • ir a:
      (Subject +) Ir a + infinitive + …;
    • volver a:
      (Subject +) Volver a + infinitive + …

Gerund

Gerund verb periphrases are aspectual periphrases that have verbs of motion with independent uses. The infinitive in the present indicative follows these verbs in the following forms:

  • andar:
    (Subject +) Andar + gerund + …
  • ir:
    (Subject +) Ir + gerund + …
  • seguir
    (Subject +) Seguir + gerund + …
  • venir:
    (Subject +) Venir+ gerund + …
  • estar:
    (Subject +) Estar + gerund + …

Example

Periphrasis of infinitive verbs:

  • Aspectual periphrases:
    • Acabas de terminar de comer así que  haz algo útil y limpia la cocina;
    • Cuando el protagonista de la película comenzó a gritar fue increíble;
    • En el equipo de atletismo hemos empezado a correr por pista, es muy aburrido;
    • Es importante que vayamos a cenar pronto o no quedarán mesas libres en el restaurante;
    • Vuelve a llamar a tu abuela, a ver si esta vez te contesta al teléfono.
  • Modal periphrases:
    • Todo lo importante que hay que saber sobre física está en este libro;
    • Yo podría sacar mejores notas si estudiara un poco más;
    • Mi madre me dice que tengo que hacer la cama antes de marcharte de casa.

Periphrasis of gerund verbs:

  • Aspectual periphrases:
    • Seguimos caminando aunque habría sido mejor parar cuando se puso a llover.

Use

Auxiliary verbs lose their meaning and serve to qualify the meaning of the other verb they help (in verbal periphrases):

  • infinitive:
    • acabar de + infinitive is to talk about the fact that in a very recent period of the past we have done one thing;
    • empezar a + infinitive indicates the beginning of an action;
    • ir a + infinitive is used to talk about intentions or plans for the near future. It informs about what you plan to do immediately or in the future: esta tarde, esta noche, mañana, este verano…;
    • volver a + infinitive indicates the repetition of an action.
  • gerund:
    • estar + gerund serves to speak of a present action that is in progress.

Summary

The auxiliary verb is joined with the infinitive, with the participle or with the gerund to express particular aspects of the meaning of the second verb. In Spanish, verbal periphrases are constructions that are formed with the use of auxiliary verbs.

Auxiliary verbs lose their meaning and serve to qualify the meaning of the other verb they help (in verbal periphrases).

For example:
— «Julio acaba de entrar a casa». = Acabar de + infinitive means that in a period in the very recent past we have done a thing;
— «Empieza a llover». = Empezar + infinitive indicates the beginning of an action;
— «Esta nevando». = Estar + gerund is used to talk about a present action that is in progress.

Check the contents of the {Form} section. Then move on to the {Example} section, which shows you the usage in context.

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