Is "Er ist gehend" possible in german? As in "Right now he is going".

I realize that adding another word, as in "Er ist gehend nass geworden", makes more sense, but still "Er ist gehend" doesn't sound completely wrong in my ears, although clearly it's not really in use.

Similarly, people use "Er ist am gehen" to say "he's just leaving". But a) is this proper German? And b) isn't that ambiguous, as it could also mean "he's walking at the moment"?

3 Answers 3


No. That's wrong.

The German language does not contain such a feature as English does. Hence, you use the simple present. From context it's clear if the action happens right now or not. However, to avoid any misunderstandings, you can add words like gerade (English right now) for clarification.

Thus, "He is going" is translated to "Er geht (gerade)".

Based on the other answer, I must disagree in one point. "Er ist am gehen" often means that you're about to leave, but it's incorrect to say that it never means "He's walking". But again, context clarifies and you will be able to distinguish the meaning.

  • I agree about "am Gehen"... context matters here. I'd like to add, that grammatically "Er ist gehend" is correct, it just doesn't mean much.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:01
  • @Emanuel Well, assuming gehend would be a participle adjective, the sentence is indeed grammatically correct. However, in this context it's rather a literal translation of the English progressive aspect which is ungrammatical in German.
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:06
  • @Emanuel Nur, dass du mich nicht falsch verstehst. Ich bin in dem Punkt etwas pingelig, damit potentielle zukünftige Leser(=LanguageLearners) nicht den Eindruck gewinnen, dass "Er ist gehend" nur zufällig bedeutungslos ist, da die Grammatik ja ansonsten richtig ist (was dein Kommentar suggeriert).
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:17
  • This is only nitpicking but- you only know that it is a literal translation because you know English. From a strictly German point of view it is a participle adjective google.de/search?q=es+ist+*d&rlz=1C1DVCJ_enDE430DE443&oq=es+ist+*d&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.10603j0j4&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8#q=%22er+ist+nervend%22
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:17
  • @Em1... aber genauso ist es... manchmal heißt es was und manchmal nicht (die d-form am Ende meine ich)
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:18

Er ist am Gehen can be heard in colloquial German, but generally in German there's no difference between the simple form and the continuous form. That's why it is so hard for us to grasp the concept :-)

Jokingly people call this the "Rheinische Verlaufsform", because it is very often heard in the Rheinland area. You can hear gems like

Weißt du, was du bist? Du bist deinen Schal am verlieren!
Do you know what you are? You are losing your scarf!

But please note that this is actually dialect!

Er is am Gehen in the sense of he's just leaving is more common, even though Er ist gerade dabei zu gehen is "better" German.

I'd like to add that there are situations when er ist XYZ are used, but not as present continuous, but as participle. Examples are:

Er ist sehend (meaning that a person is not blind)
Er stellt sich schlafend (meaning that he pretends to be sleeping)

  • While "er ist sehend" is grammatically correct, I don't think anyone would say it. Instead people would say "er kann sehen" to indicate that he is not blind. "Er stellt sich schlafend" is different because it doesn't contain "ist".
    – celtschk
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:51
  • I agree with you on er stellt sich schlafend, but I've heard er ist sehend sometimes (even though I must admit that er kann sehen is the better way to say it). Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:59
  • I would assume spontanously without context that "er ist sehend" refers to some kind of clairvoyance. It's extremely strange to use that instead of "er kann sehen". Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 6:56

In German you wouldn't use the participle in such a way. If you want to explicitly express that somebody is doing something right now, you could use the word "gerade" as in

Er liest gerade.

The phrase "Er is am gehen" is indeed used in spoken German, but it hardly ever means that "he's walking at the moment". In almost all cases it means "he is just leaving". In written German it would be better to phrase it like

Er ist im Begriff zu gehen.

  • It's not a participle, it's the present continuous. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 7:50
  • 1
    @ThorstenDittmar... it is the participle 1 form, used to produce the present continuous. You need to distinguish between form and function
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:02
  • @Emanuel Interestingly, if you search the Internet you find both, statements that say the present participle is used for the progressive tense and statements that claim the present participle just happens to be equal to the verb-form in the progressive aspect. Note that you also distinguish between gerund and participle, although there's no difference in spelling. I think you'll find valid arguments for both thesis.
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:11
  • @Em1... luckily we're not discussing English grammar :). I was referring to the German participle because this is how I understood the sentence. Beside, there are HUGE issues in grammar teaching when it comes to form vs. function (subjunctive vs. conditional, just to name an example) so I have no doubt I can find sources for any claim. Also, English grammar is a mess and they are at each others throats as to whether or not they have a predicate nominative. Also there I can find treatments for both parties
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 9:22
  • Well, you may argue that going is the participle of to go and that even though subject + is + ing-form of verb are generally taught as the present continuous it is hard to distinguish from the participle form. Still, in this case it is pretty clear that a translation for the present continuous is asked for, so I'd stop the discussion here. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 11:35

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