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The present participle - Easy Learning Grammar French

What is a present participle?
The present participle is a verb form ending in -ing which is used in English to form verb tenses, and which may be used as an adjective and a noun, for example, What are you doing?; the setting sun; Swimming is easy!

1 Using the present participle

  • Present participles are not as common in French as in English, because they are not used to form tenses. The main uses of the present participle in French are:
  • as a verb, on its own, corresponding to the English -ing form. It DOES NOT agree with the subject of the verb when it is used in this way.
Habitant près de Paris, je vais assez souvent en ville.Living close to Paris, I go into town quite often.
les voyageurs descendant à Périgueuxtravellers getting off at Périgueux
  • as a verb, after the preposition en. The present participle DOES NOT agree with the subject of the verb when it is used in this way. The subject of the two parts of the sentence is always the same. en can be translated in a number of different ways.
En attendant sa sœur, Richard s’est endormi.While waiting for his sister, Richard fell asleep.
Appelle-nous en arrivant chez toi.Call us when you get home.
En appuyant sur ce bouton, on peut imprimer ses documents.By pressing this button, you can print your documents.
Il s’est blessé en essayant de sauver un chat.He hurt himself trying to rescue a cat.
  • as an adjective, like in English. As with all adjectives in French, the ending DOES change in the feminine and plural forms.
le soleil couchantthe setting sun
l’année suivantethe following year
Ces enfants sont énervants.Those children are annoying.
des chaises pliantesfolding chairs
TipThe French present participle is NEVER used to translate English verb forms like I was walking, we are leaving.
  • English verbs describing movement that are followed by an adverb such as out or down, or a preposition such as across or up are often translated by a verb + en + present participle.
Il est sorti en courant.He ran out. (literally: He came out running.)
J’ai traversé la rue en boîtant.I limped across the street. (literally: I crossed the street limping.)

2 Forming the present participle

  • To form the present participle of regular -er, -ir and -re verbs, you use the nous form of the present tense and replace the -ons ending with -ant.
nous form of present tenseTake off -onsAdd -ant

3 Irregular verbs

  • Three verbs have an irregular present participle:
avoir (meaning to have)ayant
être (meaning to be)étant
savoir (meaning to know)sachant
Key points
  • Present participles are never used to form tenses in French, but they can be used as verbs, either on their own or after en.
  • They can also be used as adjectives, in which case they agree with the noun they describe.
  • They are formed by taking the nous form of the present tense and replacing the -ons ending with -ant. The exceptions are avoir, être and savoir.

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