periphrasis - /-ˌsiz/ /pəˈrɪfrəsɪs/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [puh-rif-ruh-sis] –noun, plural -ses   pe⋅riph⋅ra⋅sis 1.the use of an unnecessarily long or roundabout form of expression; circumlocution. expression phrased in such fashion.

None of those definitions are suitable for verbal periphrases in Spanish. perífrasis.

~ verbal. 1. f. Gram. Unidad verbal constituida por un verbo en forma personal y otro en forma no personal; p. ej., Vengo observando su conducta.

In Spanish, a periphrasis is a special construction with at least two verbs (and sometimes other words) that behave as a group like a single verb would.

Periphrases normally have a helper verb, which is fully conjugated, but does not provide the main meaning in the periphrasis, and another non-finite verb (ie. an infinitive or a participle) which is not conjugated, but provides the main meaning of the periphrasis

For example:

Voy a pensar (I am going to think)

is a periphrasis. "Voy" is the helper verb, and unlike in normal sentences, you are not "going anywhere", you are not moving at all. This loss of meaning is one of the features of a periphrasis. "Pensar" is the helped verb, which doesn't change, and tells you that the whole periphrasis is about thinking (and not going).

Some of the most common periphrases include:

  • estar + gerundio (to be doing something)
  • seguir + infinitivo (to continue to do something)
  • llevar + participio (to have done something)
  • llevar + gerundio (to lead to do something)
  • empezar a + infinitivo (to begin to do something)
  • ponerse a + infinitivo (to start to do something)
  • ir a + infinitivo (going to do something)
  • deber + infinitivo (to have to do something)
  • terminar de + infinitivo (to finish doing something)
  • poder + infinitivo (to be able to do something)
  • soler + infinitivo (to do something usually)
  • tener que + infinitivo (to have to do something)
  • acabar de + infinitivo (to have just done something)

And, of course, all the perfect tenses (eg. he comido, había visto,...), which are normally regarded as proper tenses.