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Italian newbie here, so forgive me if this is a simple question. I've got an Italian book review of something by Voltaire, written about 1740. Here's a brief part of it:

Egli in 25 capitoli va stendendo la filosofia del famoso Newton

According to what I've read, the present progressive is formed with "stare" + present gerund (and less commonly with "venire"). What I'm wondering is whether this is an alternate form of the present progressive, or whether it's a special construction that has a different meaning.

For example, in Spanish you could use a form of "ir" + present participle to say,

en 25 capítulos el va explicando la filosofía del famoso Newton

This construction draws attention to the gradual, extended nature of the exposition, so roughly it could be, "in 25 chapters, he goes through and explains the philosophy of the famous Newton."

Is there a comparable construction in Italian? Or is this something else entirely?

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The perifrastic construction with the verb andare followed by a gerund is a normal, today perhaps slightly elaborate, construction in past and present Italian.

Formally, it is one kind of perifrasi verbale gerundivale, together with those with stare or venire + gerund. Its meaning is of a continuous action: a developing state of thing, mostly where something is increasing, sometimes with a sense of contemporaneity with something else. For instance,

mentre discutevamo sul da farsi, la situazione andava peggiorando.

It is mostly used with “verbi telici durativi (cioè ... verbi che designano eventi di durata prolungata che hanno una conclusione)”, that is, verbs denoting prolonged events which may have an ending, as in:

la sala si andava riempiendo di gente

while we wouldn't say *“andava lavorando”, since there is no end to working as such.

(See the link above – in Italian – for a more in-depth covering and more examples.)

As for its use in the 18th century, Da Ponte's lines in Le nozze di Figaro come to mind:

Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
notte e giorno d'intorno girando.

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I am no expert in Italian grammar, but according to this, the construction "venire" + gerundio has, in Italian, a slightly different connotation that in Spanish and Portuguese. It says that (translated and pharaprased):

While in Spanish it has a connotation of moving toward the present or to a specific moment, in Italian it has more of a connotation of a continuous action that goes towards its conclusion.

I believe "andare" + gerundio is a similar construct. I think it is a special construction of the present progressive, and would say that it's not used so much anymore (also with "venire" as auxiliary).

For me (I am mother tongue), the explanation of the link above seems correct, because the sentence gives me the impression that the action is not yet complete, even tough in this context it is meant to recall the attention on the nature of the exposition.

I would translate with something like "In 25 chapters he exposes (or jots down) the philosophy of the famous Newton".

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    Thanks for the link to the interesting paper, but the question asks about andare + gerund, while the paper is about venire + gerund (except for a quick aside). And while the two constructions have a similar use in Italian, it's not obvious that they are interchangeable (for instance, va fatto and viene fatto are quite different). – DaG Oct 24 '17 at 15:19
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This is not used anymore, even "stendere" is not used for this purpose and to express the same meaning now we can use "esporre". So today you may say: "Egli con 25 capitoli espone la filosofia ..." and the meaning could be "Through 25 chapters he explains the philosophy ..."

  • Interesting. So does the andare + gerund construction add any meaning or nuance that the simple present lacks? – twoblackboxes Sep 2 '17 at 13:05
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    Why "this is not used anymore"? There are some examples of use of this periphrastic structure in the article linked by @DaG. – Charo Sep 2 '17 at 13:35
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    The article says "La perifrasi continua andare o venire + gerundio si caratterizza invece per una sfumatura semantica di incrementalità", that is, this structure has a nuance of something that is progressively growing or increasing (I'm not sure if this is a good translation). It gives these examples: "la sala si andava riempiendo di gente", "ciò che la teologia è venuta mettendo in luce negli ultimi due secoli". – Charo Sep 2 '17 at 13:48
  • By that explanation, the andare + gerund construction is indeed similar to its Spanish counterpart. – twoblackboxes Sep 4 '17 at 11:54
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    @twoblackboxes: Yes, the nuance is very similar to that of Spanish. – Charo Sep 4 '17 at 17:19

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