The French Present Participle: le Participe Présent

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Le Participe Présent: How it is Formed

The present participle in English is what we know as the “-ing” form of the verb (for example, “singing”) and is easy to form. Forming the present participle (le participe présent in French) is simple, too. Take the third person plural present construction of any verb (the “nous” form of the verb), drop of the verbal ending -ons, and add the ending -ant. The equation below spells out the process of forming the present participle in French, followed by an example using a French verb:

Process of Forming the Present Participle: Verb –> verb in present tense “nous” form –> drop off the ending –> add -ant = present participle

Example of Forming the Present Participle: jouer (verb meaning “to play”) –> (nous) jouons (the third person present verb meaning “we play”) –> jou- (the verbal root with the ending, -ons, dropped off –> jouant (the verbal root with -ant added to the end) = jouant, present participle of the verb jouer

Here are several infinitives (verbs) and their corresponding present participles:

  • représenter - représentant
  • danser - dansant
  • dépeindre - dépeignant
  • conduire - conduisant
  • écouter - écoutant

Le Participe Présent: Three Exceptions

All regular and irregular verbs form their present participle as shown above, with three exceptions. The exceptions are the French verbs avoir, être and savoir. Their present participles are as follows:

  • avoir - ayant
  • être - étant
  • savoir - sachant

Usually, the present participle functions as the verbal adjective, but some verbs have a slightly different spelling for the verbal adjective. Keep in mind that savoir (as well as other verbs listed below) is one of these verbs that takes a slightly different form from the present participle when used as a verbal adjective.

Le Participe Présent: Used to Modify Nouns/Pronouns

The present participle in French can be used to modify a noun or pronoun, as in the following examples:

  • Prenant son chapeau, il est parti. (Taking his hat, he left) - the present participle prenant modifies the pronoun il.
  • Ayant faim, il a mangé tout le fromage. (Being hungry, he ate all the cheese) - the present participle ayant modifies the noun fromage.
  • C’est un livre dépeignant la vie des habitants de Terre-Neuve. (It’s a book describing the life of the inhabitants of Newfoundland) - the present participle dépeignant modifies the noun livre.
  • Sur cette photo, c’est ma fille dansant. (In this photo, it’s my daughter dancing) - the present participle dansant modifies the noun fille.

In this usage, the present participle is functioning as a verb within its phrase, but is also modifying a noun or pronoun within the context of the sentence.

Le Participe Présent: Used as a Gerund

The present participle can also be used as a gerund (le gérondif), which expresses a relationship to the main verb. When used as a gerund, the present participle is always preceded by en. Here are some sentences that contain le gérondif:

  • Il lit son journal en fumant la pipe. - He reads his journal while smoking a pipe.
  • Elle mange des amandes en regardant la télévision. - She eats almonds while watching T.V.
  • Il fait ses devoirs en écoutant de la musique. - He does his homework while listening to music.
  • Il téléphone en counduisant sa voiture. - He talks on the phone while driving his car.

Le Participe Présent: Used as a Verbal Adjectif

The present participle can be used as a verbal adjective (l’adjectif verbal), with a few slight modifications. When used as a verbal adjective, the present participle must show gender and number agreement with the noun or pronoun it modifies. The gender/number agreement is simple: add -e for feminine singular, and add -s at the end to make either a masculine or feminine verbal adjective plural. Here are some examples of verbal adjectives:

  • un article intéressant - an interesting article
  • des enfants bruyants (bruyant + s) - some noisy children
  • des femmes charmantes (charmant + e + s) - some charming women

In some cases, the verbal adjective differs slightly in form from the present participle form; following are the verbs that differ between the present participle and the verbal adjective:

  • adhérer
  • converger
  • différer
  • diverger
  • émerger
  • équivaloir
  • exceller
  • influer
  • négliger
  • précéder
  • somnoler
  • communiquer
  • convaincre
  • fatiguer
  • intriguer
  • naviguer
  • provoquer
  • suffoquer
  • vaquer