The French present participle is the French equivalent of the English present participle. Just as English present participles end in –ing, French present participles always end in –ant. French present participles can be used in many of the same ways as their English counterparts can. Present participles can function as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They can also function as gerunds when they are preceded by the preposition en (while, on, upon, by, in, when).
Conjugating the Present Participle
The present participle is formed by dropping the –ons ending from the nous form of the present tense of a verb and replacing it with –ant. For example, the regular –ER verb parlons (we speak) becomes parlant (speaking). Likewise, the regular –IR verb choisissons (we choose) becomes choisissant (choosing), and the regular –RE verb descendons (we descend) becomes descendant (descending).
There are only three irregular present participles that don’t follow this rule: avoir (to have) becomes ayant (having), être (to be) becomes étant (being), and savoir (to know) becomes sachant (knowing).
Usage Differences between French and English
There are a few situations where present participles can be used in English that they cannot be used in French.
First, present participles cannot be used in a “to be + present participle” construction to create a progressive tense verb. You’ll need to use either the present tense or être en train de + infinitive instead.
Second, the present participle cannot be used as a noun that indicates an activity (“writing is fun”) or to talk about what someone is doing (“I am writing”). In such instances, you’ll need to use infinitive and the present tense, respectively.
Finally, the present particle will be invariable (no agreement with the subject) when used as a verb. It’s also important to note that a present participle cannot be used after another verb.