French Present Participle - Le participe présent

Learn How and When to Use the French Present Participle

French Present Participle

The French present participle is the verb form that ends in -ant. It is far less common than its English counterpart, which ends in -ing. The French present participle may be an adjective, gerund, noun, or verb. Before getting into specific uses of the present participle, there are four things that French students need to know in order to avoid very common mistakes:

  1. The French present participle can never be used to talk about what someone is doing. The construction "je suis mangeant" (the literal translation of "I am eating") simply does not exist in French - you must use the present tense: je mange. To emphasize the ongoing nature of an activity, you can use the French expression être en train de: je suis en train de manger - "I'm eating (right now).
  1. The French present participle cannot be used after another verb. "J'aime lisant" does not exist; to say "I like reading," you must use the infinitive: j'aime lire.
  2. The English usage of the present participle as a noun indicating an activity, as in "Seeing is believing," is another case in which the French translation requires the infinitive: Voir, c'est croire. Sometimes you can just use a noun; to translate "Reading is fun," you have two options: Lire est un plaisir, La lecture est un plaisir.
  3. As a verb or gerund, the present participle is invariable, except in the case of pronominal verbs, which keep the appropriate reflexive pronoun in front of the present participle: me coiffant (doing my hair), en nous levant (upon [us] getting up), etc.

Present Participle as a Verb or Gerund

When used as a verb, the French present participle expresses an action that is simultaneous with, but not necessarily related to, the action of the main verb.

There are two possible uses for this in French: to modify a noun or express an action that is related to the main verb.

1. Modify a noun:

Sachant le danger, je n'y suis pas allé.Knowing the danger, I didn't go.
Ayant faim, il a mangé tout le gâteau.Being hungry, he ate all of the cake.
Une fille, lisant un livre, est venue au café.A girl reading a book came to the café.
Je l'ai vu achetant des livres.I saw him buying some books.

2. Express an action that is related to the main verb.

This present participle, called le gérondif, or "gerund," nearly always follows the preposition en. It can serve three purposes:

 a) Describe an action that is related to and simultaneous with the action of the main verb, usually translated as "while" or "upon:"

Elle lisait en mangeant. She read while eating.
En voyant les fleurs, elle a pleuré.Upon seeing the flowers, she cried.
Il ne peut pas parler en travaillant.He can't talk while working.

 b) Explain how or why something happens, usually translated by "by":

C'est en pratiquant que vous le faites bien.It's by practicing that you do it well.
Elle a maigri en faisant beaucoup de sport.She got thin by excercising a lot.
En m'habillant vite, j'ai gagné 5 minutes.By getting dressed quickly, I saved 5 minutes.

c) Replace a relative clause:

les étudiants venant de l'Afrique (qui viennent de l'Afrique)students who come from Africa
les médecins parlant français (qui parlent français)doctors who speak French
les membres voulant partir (qui veulent partir)members wishing to leave

Present Participle vs. Gerund

The difference between A and B is that the present participle modifies a noun, whereas the gerund expresses something related to a verb.

This distinction is immediately apparent in the following examples:

J'ai vu Luc sortant de l'école.
   I saw Luc leaving the school (I saw him as he was leaving)
   > The noun Luc is modified, so sortant is the present participle.

J'ai vu Luc en sortant de l'école.
   I saw Luc upon leaving the school (I saw him when I was leaving)
   > The verb saw is modified, so en sortant is the gerund.

Present Participle As an Adjective or Noun

The French present participle is sometimes used as an adjective. Like other adjectives, the present participle used in this way usually follows the nouns it modifies and agrees with the noun in gender and number, following the normal rules of adjective agreement:

   un film amusant
   an amusing movie

   de l'eau courante
   running water

   les numéros gagnants
   the winning numbers

   des maisons intéressantes
   interesting houses

The French present participle can sometimes be used as a noun, and again follows the normal gender/number rules for nouns.

   un assistant - assistant

   un commerçant - shopkeeper

   un enseignant - teacher

   un étudiant - student

   un fabricant* - manufacturer

   un gagnant - winner

   un participant - participant

   un savant* - scientist

*Some verbs have different forms for the present participle used as a verb and as a noun or adjective

Present Participle Conjugations

The formation of the French present participle is very simple. For regular and all but three irregular verbs, the French present participle is formed by dropping -ons from the nous form of the present tense and adding -ant. The three exceptions are avoirêtre, and savoir.

Remember that for pronominal verbs, you must keep the appropriate reflexive pronoun in front of the present participleme coiffant (doing my hair), en nous levant (upon [us] getting up), etc.

French present participles
nous formparlonsfinissonsrendonsvoyonsavonssommessavons
present participleparlantfinissantrendantvoyantayantétantsachant*

*Savoir and a number of other verbs have two different spellings for the present participle, depending on how they are used - some examples:
spellingverbpresent participle adjective/noun
adj. ends in -entafflueraffluantaffluent
adj. ends in -cantcommuniquercommuniquantcommunicant
adj. ends in -gant déléguerdéléguantdélégant


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Your Citation
Lawless, Laura K. "French Present Participle - Le participe présent." ThoughtCo, Mar. 24, 2017, Lawless, Laura K. (2017, March 24). French Present Participle - Le participe présent. Retrieved from Lawless, Laura K. "French Present Participle - Le participe présent." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 22, 2017).