Present participles are a very easy concept to master. In French, they are the forms of verbs that correspond with when you use “-ing” in verbs in English. Instead of “-ing”, however, the suffix becomes –ant after taking off the first person plural (the nous form) verb ending.
Forming the Present Participle
Most forms of the present participle are regular, based on using the nous form of the verb, removing the –ons ending, and adding on –ant. For example:
Attendre (infinitive form) →Attendant (present participle)
Regarder → Regardant
Aller → Allant
Avoir and être, perhaps unsurprisingly, have irregular forms.
Avoir → Ayant
Être → Étant
Present Participle Examples
Present participles are used in subordinate clauses, meaning they are parts of sentences which are not complete sentences on their own.
Sachant qu’ils seraient en retard, elle apportait un livre avec elle. (“Knowing that they would be late, she brought a book with her.”)
Elle a acheté un manteau, croyant que le temps ferait froid. (“She bought a coat, believing the weather would be cold.”)
They are often preceded by en, which generally means, “while” doing the present participle or “by” doing the present participle. This is also called the gerund form.
J’ai bu du café en étudiant pour mon examen. (“I drank coffee while studying for my exam.”)
En attendant le bus, il a fait une sieste. (“While waiting for the bus, he took a nap.”)
Present participles are invariable, meaning there is no singular/plural or masculine/feminine agreement in their endings.
Compound Forms with Past Tense
Present participles can also be used in compound past verb structures using the present participle forms of être and avoir, depending on whether the main verb is conjugated normally, with avoir, or is one of the être verbs.
The present participle is followed by the corresponding past participle form (the form used in passé composé). For example:
Étant arrivée tôt, elle a eu le temps de manger. (“Having arrived early, she had time to eat.”)
Ayant perdu son sac, elle a appelé la police. (“Having lost her purse, she called the police.”)
As you can see above, the être verbs use gender and singular/plural ending agreement just as they do in other uses of the French past participles.
Present Participles as Adjectives
Finally, present participles can directly modify nouns as adjectives. As with other adjectives, they will need to agree in gender and plurality with the noun they are modifying.
Les livres passionnants (“The fascinating books”)
La femme dansante (“The dancing woman“)
French present participles are a grammatical concept that is relatively simple to learn, with few irregular forms and translating almost directly from the present participle structure in English. They will be useful as you learn to form more complex sentences and imply cause and effect or simultaneous actions within the same sentence, as well as expand your vocabulary of French adjectives.