Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Le Participe Présent―The French Version of “...ing”
Can you say ,”He fell while playing tennis” in French? It’s likely that you do know how to say, “He fell...”―Il est tombé...―using the passé composé tense. (Tomber is a movement verb that takes être. To review the passé composé watch Lesson 8 on Youtube at10:25.)
But you may be having more trouble figuring out how to say, “...while playing tennis.” To figure that out, you need to know how to use le participe présent to say “...en jouant au tennis.” Il est tombé en jouant aux tennis. Unfamiliar to you? Don’t panic. We’re going to help you figure this out. It’s almost as “simple comme Bonjour” (French expression meaning very simple―as simple as saying Bonjour!)
First things first. What, exactly, is le participe présent ? In its simplest form, it’s the equivalent of adding “ing” to an English verb. In French, it’s that form of a verb where you add -ant at the end. For sure, you’ve seen it before! (Like in the adjective fascinant―fascinating.)
So, it’s really easy to form. You just take the NOUS form of a verb in the present tense, get rid of the -ons ending, and add -ant. Et voilà! That’s it. You just formed le participe présent, and that’s always the way you do it except for a very few (three) irregular verbs. (Always a catch, right?)
jouer → nous jouons → jouant (er verb)―playing
finir → nous finissons → finissant (ir verb)― finishing
prendre → nous prenons → prenant (re verb)―taking
The Three Irregular Participes Présent
avoir → ayant―having
être → étant―being
savoir → sachant―knowing
“In its simplest form, it’s the equivalent of adding “ing” to an English verb ”
Even though le participe présent is the French equivalent of “-ing” in English, the French don’t use the present participle quite as often as English speakers do. Nevertheless, there are three basic ways to use it in French.
1. To replace QUI + verb in a complex sentence―a substitute for “which.”
When you have a long sentence (just like the French love them) you often need several verbs, and certainly you can use qui to express the concept of "which".
La nuit, je regarde la Tour Eiffel qui illumine Paris. At night, I look at the Eiffel Tower which illuminates Paris.
But what if you want to make the sentence lighter, more elegant, and less wordy? You can say:
La nuit, je regarde la Tour Eiffel, illuminant Paris. At night, I look at the Eiffel Tower, illuminating Paris.
Same meaning, but you’ll definitely sound more fluent, more elegant, lighter, and more French (haha!) when you use le participe présent.
2. To express simultaneity, or the means of accomplishing something―le gérondif―a substitute for “while”, “by”, or “in”.
This is a way of talking about two events that happened at the same time. Have a look:
En jouant au tennis, j’ai cassé ma raquette. While (or by, during, or in) playing tennis, I broke my racket.
J’ai visité le quartier latin de Paris en marchant dans les petites rues. I visited the latin quarter of Paris by walking in the little streets.
Je vais réserver une place de théâtre en déjeunant. I’m going to reserve a seat in the theater while eating lunch (or while lunching).
Here, the little trick is to add the preposition en in front of le participe présent, and BAAAM, you just created what grammarians call the gérondif. (Great job! You can be proud of yourself.)
Notice that in the two first sentences, the gérondif expresses HOW something happened, or the MEANS by which it occurred.
En jouant au tennis, j’ai cassé ma raquette…
HOW did I break my raquette? En jouant au tennis…
(Too bad. Next time, be more gentle.)
J’ai visité le quartier latin de Paris en marchant dans les petites rues.
HOW did I visit le quartier latin? En marchant dans les petites rues.
(Great choice! Absolutely the best way to experience the ambience of le quartier latin.)
And in the last sentence, the gérondif expresses an action executed at the same time as another action (SIMULTANEITY).
Je vais réserver une place de théâtre en déjeunant.
WHEN will you book the theater? ...en déjeunant.
(Which means, you ate and booked at the same time, which is not healthy. So please, next time, wait until the coffee to do that, and enjoy your food and friends while you eat.)
Notice that in these cases of participe présent, there is no need for agreement―it’s always the same (no adjustment for tense, gender, or number). Admit it. That’s quite convenient!
3. To create an adjective
In English, you already know that you can convert a verb, such as “to charm”, for example, to the adjective “charming” by adding “-ing.” You can do exactly the same thing in French. But when you convert a French verb to an adjective, it totally acts like an adjective, which means that it therefore needs to agree with the noun to which it is linked in both gender and number, so it can end by -ant, -ants, -ante, or -antes.
Let’s continue with our example, the French verb charmer―to charm. Un jeune homme charmant; des enfants charmants; une femme charmante; des petites rues charmantes.
Now, you know everything, Jon Snow! So next, here’s a few practice sentences to help you retain your newfound linguistic expertise.
En dansant, je me sens libre ! When dancing, I feel free!
Prenant son parapluie, il est parti. Taking his umbrella, he left.
J’écoute de la musique classique en conduisant. I listen to classical music while driving.
Sachant le temps, j’ai pris mon imperméable. Knowing the weather, I took my raincoat.
Je l'ai vu achetant un journal. I saw him buying a newspaper.
La pièce de théâtre était amusante. The play was amusing.
Ayant faim, j’ai mangé tous les biscuits. Being hungry, I ate all the cookies.
Listen To The Pronunciation of Today's French Phrases
And if you would like to also practice pronouncing all the words and phrases in today’s blog, you can listen to the correct pronunciation HERE!
Tell Us About Your Listening Habits
Now maybe you could tell us a little something about yourself.
Qu’est-ce que tu fais quand tu écoutes des podcasts, en général ?
Moi, j’écoute souvent des podcasts en mangeant. Et toi ?
Write your answer in the comment box !
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