French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Present participle (e.g.: en parlant)

The present participle is a verb form that ends in -ant. It can function like an adverb or an adjective. While it sometimes corresponds to an English verb ending in -ing, its use in French is more restricted. Many English -ing forms correspond to the present tense in French, not the present participle.

How to form the present participle

The present participle is formed by adding -ant to the root of the verb, e.g: En chantant. In most cases, the root is formed by dropping the ending of the infinitive. However, for verbes ending in -ger, the "e" remains, e.g.: En mangeant.

There are some verbs that have an irregular stem for the present participle. The most common are:

être > étant

avoir > ayant

savoir > sachant

faire > faisant

dire > disant

Use of the present participle

The most common context for the present participle is after the preposition en. For example, C'est en travaillant plus fort que vous allez réussir. In French, the present participle is not used to indicate an action in the present, e.g.: the English sentence "I am trying to help you" would be translated with the present tense, not the present participle: J'essaie de vous aider.

Note that the present participle is used the French translation of "Practice makes perfect" (C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron).

Agreement with the present participle

One only makes agreement when the present participle modifies a noun (like an adjective), e.g.: Des personnes intéressantes; des efforts épuisants. In all other cases, the present participle remains invariable, e.g.: Les enfants venant de loin; les jours suivant leur arrivée. Here's a trick: If you can replace the present participle by qui + present tense of the verb, there isn't agreement.

Mistakes to avoid

 

  • If you mean "by doing", "by trying", etc., do NOT use par faire, par essayer; use en + present participle.
  • Do not use the present participle to describe a present action, use the present tense instead, e.g.: "I am reading a book" = Je lis un livre.

 

 
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