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February 18, 2014

french participle present

Before we go any further with this, let's try to address this question that I'm pretty sure is in your mind right now.

Why we should learn the French present participle?

The French participe présent does not form any tense itself, that's why it is far less common than its English counterpart, and even less common than its brother participe passé. But without this little thing, the French language will no longer be the same.

They say that the forgotten one, if it does not want to be forgotten, it should act strong and be flexible. This is undoubtedly true for the case of the French participe présent here. This participle could be used either as a gerund, a noun, a verb or an adjective. Employing it properly will make your sentence light but beautiful.

Ready to start learning about it? Let's go!

First problem: How to form a present participle in French

Some of you may already know the rule to form the present participle of a verb, but let's review it one more time here.

The good news is that the rule is pretty straightforward and there are very few exceptions. For regular and all but three irregular verbs, the present participle is formed by dropping -ons from the form of the first person in plural (nous) of the present tense and adding -ant.

Manger-> Nous mangeons-> mangeant
Parler-> Nous parlons-> parlant
Finir -> Nous finissons-> finissant
Sortir-> Nous sortons-> sortant

We have only 3 exceptions, 2 of them are verbs that always appear in the list of exceptions for all tenses in French: avoir et être. The 3rd one is also a well-known verb: savoir (to know).

avoir-> ayant
être-> étant
savoir-> sachant

When you SHOULDN'T use the French Present Participle

  • To emphasize an ongoing action: The English present participle is far more common than its French counterpart because it is used to form continuous tense. In French, this type of structure simply does not exist. If you want to say "I'm doing", just use the present tense "je fais". In case you really need to emphasize that this is an ongoing action, add the structure "être en train de", so we have "je suis en train de faire". The practical structure of "je suis faisant" unfortunately does not exist in French.
  • Right after a verb The structure "I like playing sports" also does not exist in French (j'aime faisant du sport), where you cannot put the present participle right after a verb. In that case, French uses the infinitive "j'aime faire du sport".

So, when SHOULD you use it?

It might not catch your eye at the first sign, but the French present participle could be found in many sentence structures, as detailed below:

  • To form the gerund: Similar to English, the French's gérondif (gerund) is formed by adding the preposition en before the present participle. The gerund in French describes the relationship between two actions, it can be either a simultaneity, manner, condition, or causality relationship.

Il s'est foulé la cheville en jouant au foot
He sprained his ankle while playing football.
Elle écoute la musique en conduisant
She listens to music while driving

  • As a verb: The French present participle can be used as a verb. In this case, it helps to avoid the use coordinating conjunction (mais ou et donc or ni car/ And, but, for, nor, or, so,  yet) or subordinating conjunction (e.g: after, although.... /quand, comme....) , and keep the sentence as a simple sentence (only one main clause).


Without present participle: Il n'a pas pu jouer parce qu'il est blessé au genou. (subordinating conjunction) He couldn't play because he has a knee injury

With present participle: Étant blessé au genou, il n'a pas pu jouer. (present participle) Having a knee injury, he couldn't play. 

  • As a noun: Some present participles can be used as a noun. And as a noun, the participle can change its gender and number.
un gagnanta winnerune gagnantea winner (feminine)
un perdanta loserune perdantea loser (feminine)
un assistantan assistantune assistantean assistant (feminine)
un commerçanta shopkeeperune commerçantea shopkeeper (feminine)
un enseignanta teacherune enseignantea teacher (feminine)
un étudianta studentune étudiante a student (feminine)
un fabricanta manufacturerune fabricantea manufacturer (feminine)
  • As an adjective: Many present participles can be used as adjectives. Here also, the participle agrees with the noun it modifies. For example:

des matchs épuisants                                      exhausting games

un sport exigeant                                           a demanding sport 

  • To form the past gerund: The past gerund (passé composé du participe présent) is a special structure in French.

This is formed with the auxiliary avoir/être in present participle mood + the past participle of the verb (similar to the passé composé).


Ayant accepté la défaite, les joueurs sont rentrés chez eux.

Having accepted the defeat, the players went home.

The rule of choosing the auxiliary (avoir/être) is similar to other compound tense in French (e.g: passé composé).

This structure is used to describe an action that took place right before another action. It is nearly similar to the structure après avoir/ être + participe passé 

Quick Recap

  • The French participe présent is formed by dropping the ending –ons in the nous/present tense form and adding its ending –ant.
  • The participe présent is not as common as its English counterpart, but it is rather flexible,  and can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, a gerund…
  • Mastering this form will help you lighten your sentence structure, and therefore make it sound better.

I hope you found this article helpful and I am looking forward to your comments.

If you want more simplified (and not boring) grammar lessons, check out the French Vocabulary Mastery Course. 

P.S. You would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter or Facebook.

About the author 

Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Instagram

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