When used as a verb, the French present participle expresses an action that is simultaneous with, but not necessarily related to, the action of the main verb. There are two possible uses for this in French:
Modify a noun:
Sachant le danger, je n'y suis pas allé.
Knowing the danger, I didn't go.
Ayant faim, il a mangé tout le gâteau.
Being hungry, he ate all of the cake.
Une fille, lisant un livre, est venue au café.
A girl reading a book came to the café.
Je l'ai vu achetant des livres.
I saw him buying some books.
Express an action that is related to the main verb. This present participle, called le gérondif
, or "gerund," nearly always follows the preposition en
. It can serve three purposes:
Describe an action that is related to and simultaneous with the action of the main verb, usually translated as "while" or "upon":
Elle lisait en mangeant.
She read while eating.
En voyant les fleurs, elle a pleuré.
Upon seeing the flowers, she cried.
Il ne peut pas parler en travaillant.
He can't talk while working.
Explain how or why something happens, usually translated by "by":
C'est en pratiquant que vous le faites bien.
It's by practicing that you do it well.
Elle a maigri en faisant beaucoup de sport.
She got thin by excercising a lot.
En m'habillant vite, j'ai gagné 5 minutes.
By getting dressed quickly, I saved 5 minutes.
Replace a relative clause
les étudiants venant de l'Afrique (qui viennent de l'Afrique)
students who come from Africa
les médecins parlant français (qui parlent français)
doctors who speak French
les membres voulant partir (qui veulent partir)
members wishing to leave
Present participle vs Gerund
The difference between A and B is that the present participle modifies a noun, whereas the gerund expresses something related to a verb. This distinction is immediately apparent in the following examples:
J'ai vu Luc sortant de l'école.
I saw Luc leaving the school (I saw him as he was leaving)
> The noun Luc
is modified, so sortant
is the present participle.
J'ai vu Luc en sortant de l'école.
I saw Luc upon leaving the school (I saw him when I was leaving)
> The verb saw
is modified, so en sortant
is the gerund.
Page 1 - Introduction
Page 2 - Present participle as a verb or gerund
Page 3 - Present participle as an adjective or noun
Page 4 - Present participle conjugations
Page 5 - Present participle quiz