Many anglophones, and a lot of bad translators too, use the Spanish gerundio when they shouldn’t. This is caused by a syntactic calque, that is, the use of a syntactic construction that is correct in one language, but incorrect in the other language.
To fully understand this post, we have to review some English grammar: the difference between the gerund and the present participle.
Gerund vs. present participle
In English there is a gerund (e.g. “making”, from “make”) and a present participle. Apparently they are the same, since both have the same ending, so “making” can be both a gerund and a present participle.
But their syntactic uses are different: you use gerunds in progressive/continuous tenses and some other constructions:
Present participles, however, are the “opposite” of past participles, that is, while present participles are active, past participles are passive. For example:
- “boring” (present participle = active): something that bores
- “bored” (past participle = passive): someone gets bored by something that is boring
Generally speaking, present participles are equivalent to a relative clause:
Spanish has no participio de presente
The problem is that, while English has a perfectly normal present participle, Spanish doesn’t. Latin did have a present participle, but modern Spanish has lost it, and only a few fossils remain such as amante ‘lover’, presidente, durante, etc.; more on that (in Spanish) here.
English ‹‑ing› isn’t always Spanish ‹‑ndo›
The mistake we are talking about is automatically translating English ‹‑ing› (which can be a gerund or a present participle) into Spanish ‹‑ndo› (which can be gerundio only).
This means that you can (usually) translate a gerund using gerundio; but whenever the English ‹‑ing› form is a present participle, you cannot translate it using gerundio (because it’s incorrect) nor participio de presente (because it doesn’t exist). Let me show you:
So what would the correct translation for that be? As we already said, English present participle is (usually) equivalent to a relative clause, and so it is in Spanish as well: