French Grammar: The Present Participle

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project


French Grammar: The Present Participle
la grammaire française: le participe présent


The Present Participle is the general equivalent of using [-ING] in English. It can be used in a variety of functions including as adjectives, in verbal phrases, and in place of a relative clause.

To form the Present Participle for almost all French verbs, you’ll need to replace the -ons ending of the Present Tense nous form of the verb and add -ant.

Parler –> Parlant
Cuisiner –> Cuisinant

Bâtir –> tissant
Finir –> Finissant

Attendre –> Attendant
Vendre –> Vendant

Écrire –> Écrivant
Faire –> Faisant
Prendre –> Prenant

There are only three verbs with irregular Present Participles:

Avoir –> Ayant
Être –> Étant
Savoir –> Sachant

a. When a Present Participle is used as an adjective, it generally follows the noun or pronoun it modifies and agrees with that noun or pronoun in number and gender:

de l’eau bouillante (from bouillir) : boiling water

les billets gagnants (from gagner) : the winning tickets

les idées passionantes (from passionner) : the fascinating ideas

b. When a Present Participle is used as a verb, it often follows the preposition en.

EN + Present Participle = by/by means of/through/upon/while  (verb)….ing

This construction can be used to express an action that is taking place at the same time as the action of the main verb:

Chez nous on ne parle pas en dînant.
At our house, we don’t talk while eating dinner.

En entrant la salle de classe, le professeur a salué aux étudiants.
Upon entering the classroom, the professor greeted the students.

EN + Present Participle can also be used to tell why or how something is done:

Vous réussirez au cours en faisant tous les devoirs.
You all will pass the course by doing all the homework.

Il a reçu une promotion en travaillant dur.
He received a promotion through working hard.

It’s also possible to use the Present Participle without en:

Étant nerveuse, j’ai pris une grande inspiration.
Being nervous, I took a deep breath.

Sachant qu’elle arrivait, nous avons nettoyer la maison.
Knowing that she was arriving, we cleaned the house.

c. The Present Participle can also be used in place of a relative pronoun. Used this way, the Present Participle does not agree in number or gender. This use of the Present Participle is much more common in formal speech and writing; it is rarely used in everyday conversation.

Les employés apportant (= qui apportent) leur déjeuner le mangent dans la salle de repos.
The employees bringing their lunch eat it in the break room.

Les employés n’apportant pas (= qui n’apportent pas) leur déjeuner l’achètent dans la cantine.
The employees not bringing their lunch buy it in the cafeteria.

NOTE:  While important, the Present Participle is used far less in French than it is in English. Consider:

Il étudie.
He is studying.

J’aime faire du ski.
I like skiing.

Voir, c’est croire.
Seeing is believing.


Cet homme est intimidant.
That man is intimidating.

En ouvrant la porte, le chien s’est échappé.
Upon opening the door, the dog got out.

Elle est sortie, traînant la chaise derrière elle.
She left, dragging the chair behind her.

Tu réussiras à l’examen en étudiant.
You (informal) will pass the test by studying.

Une étudiant portant un chemisier rouge cherche le professeur.
A (female) student wearing a red blouse is looking for the professor.