Participe and gérondif: participles and gerunds in French

What are participles and gerunds in French grammar?

Le participe passé (past participle), le participe présent (present participle) and le gérondif (the gerund) are impersonal verb forms, similar to the infinitive. The gerund and the present participle are similar to the English -ing form, but their use is more limited than their English counterpart. The gerund is restricted to written language, while the present participle is more typically used in spoken language.

Learn the difference between le participe passé, le participe présent and le gérondif with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then test your knowledge in the free exercises.

Example

Zeichnung

Le temps n’étant pas trop mauvais, Max a pu jouer au foot samedi dernier. Le match fut passionnant et l’équipe adverse était surprenante.

En jouant, Max a marqué un but et son équipe a gagné. En s’entraînant bien, son équipe gagnera aussi le prochain match.

Après le match, Max était de très bonne humeur. Il est rentré chez lui en chantant.

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How to use French participles

In French the participle can be present, past or composé.

When to use le participe présent in French

We use the participe présent:

  • as a verb in reference to a noun or a pronoun. It is invariable (meaning that it doesn’t agree in gender or number with the subject) and it can have the same meaning as a relative clause
    Example:
    Max ayant le ballon devant lui court vers l’autre bout du terrain.Having the ball in his possession, Max ran towards the other end of the field.
  • in a participle clause. In these clauses the present participle is also invariable, and the subject of the participle clause is different to the subject in the main clause.
    Example:
    Le temps n’étant pas trop mauvais, Max a pu jouer au foot.The weather wasn’t too bad, so Max could play football.
  • as an adjective. In this case the ending of the present participle agrees in number and gender with the noun it refers to.
    Example:
    un match passionnantan exciting game
    une équipe surprenantea surprising team

When to use le participe passé in French

We use the participe passé:

  • to form the compound tenses with the auxiliary verbs avoir or être.
Tense Example
passé composé Max a marqué un but.Max scored a goal/Max has scored a goal.
plus-que-parfait Max avait marqué un but.Max had scored a goal.
futur antérieur Max aura marqué un but.Max will have scored a goal.
passif Un but est marqué par Max.A goal was scored by Max.
conditionnel passé Max aurait marqué un but.Max would have scored a goal.
subjonctif passé Que Max ait marqué un but.That Max had scored a goal.
  • as an adjective.
    Example:
    L’équipe a gagné grâce au but marqué par Max.The team won thanks to the goal scored by Max.

When to use le participe composé in French

The participe composé brings together the participe présent and the participe passé. We use it in participle clauses to talk about an action that had already been completed by the time the action in the main clause took place.

Example:
Ayant joué le samedi, il se reposa le dimanche.Since his team played on Saturday, Max rested on Sunday.

In passive sentences, the participe composé highlights that the action in question is finished.

Example:
Les paris étant faits, tous sont curieux.With the bets made, everyone was curious.

Given that the participe passé also expresses a completed past action, sometimes both participles are possible. However, in the following cases we can only use the participe composé (and not the participe passé):

  • with intransitive verbs that take avoir as an auxiliary in the passé composé with avoir
    Example:
    Ayant applaudi, le public sortit du stade.Having applauded, the audience left the stadium.
  • with the verb aller
    Example:
    Étant allée au stade en avance, sa famille eut des places au premier rang.Having gone to the stadium early, his family had seats in the first row.

How to form French participles

How to form le participe présent in French

To form the participe présent in French we take the present tense nous form of verb and replace the ending ons with ant.

Examples:
aimer – nous aimons – aimant
finir – nous finissons – finissant
dormir – nous dormons – dormant
vendre – nous vendons – vendant

To Note

Three verbs form the participe présent in an irregular fashion:

Example:
avoirto have – ayant
êtreto be – étant
savoirto know – sachant

How to form le participe passé in French

Forming the past participle of the regular -er/-ir/-re verbs is easy:

  • If the infinitive ends in -er, the participle ends in é
    Example:
    aimer – aimé
  • If the infinitive ends in -ir, the participle ends in i
    Example:
    finir – fini
  • If the infinitive ends in -re, the participle ends in u
    Example:
    vendre - vendu

For the irregular verbs, we have to look up their participle forms in the list of irregular verbs or check the verb conjugator — or simply learn these forms by heart.

Agreement of the participe passé

For certain verbs, the participe passé has to agree in gender and number with either the subject or the object of the sentence.

Singular Plural
Masculine participe passé participe passé + s
Feminine participe passé + e participe passé + es

This agreement is necessary in the following cases:

  • When a verb takes être as a help verb in the compound tenses the past participle agrees with the subject.
    Examples:
    La balle s’est envolée.The ball flew.
    Les balles se sont envolées.The balls flew.
  • For verbs that take avoir in the compound tenses, the participle only agrees in gender and number with a direct object that comes before the verb. This direct object can take three possible forms: a personal pronoun (me, te, le, la, nous, vous, les), the relative pronoun que, or a noun that comes before the verb (usually in questions and exclamations).
    Examples:
    Max a marqué un but. → Max l’a marqué.Max scored a goal.
    Max a marqué deux buts. → Max les a marqués.Max scored two goals.
  • In the case of reflexive verbs (which always take être as their auxiliary verb), the participe passé generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Nous nous sommes levés trop tard.We got up too late.

    The exception to this rule concerns direct objects: the participle does not agree if the reflexive verb is followed by a direct object.

    Example:
    Elle s’est lavé les mains.She washed her hands. (Elle s’est lavé quoi? → les mains)
    but: Elle s’est lavée.

    Remember: the participe passé never agrees with an indirect object.

    Example:
    Marie et Laurent se sont téléphoné.Marie and Laurent called each other on the phone. (téléphoné à)
    se = indirect object
  • The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphonerto phone each other,se parlerto talk to each other,se mentirto lie to each other,se plaire (complaire/déplaire)to like each other,se sourire{{info::to smile at each other}},se rireto laugh at each other,se nuireto hurt each other,se succéderto succeed each other,se suffireto be enough,se ressemblerto look like each other, s’en vouloirto be annoyed with each other.This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

How to form le participe composé in French

We form the participe composé using the participe présent of être or avoir and the participe passé of the main verb.

  • ayant + participe passé
    for active forms of verbs that take avoir as an auxiliary in the passé composé
    Example:
    jouer → passé composé: il a joué → participe composé: ayant joué
  • étant + participe passé
    for passive sentences and for all verbs that take être in the passé composé
    Example:
    s’entraîner → passé composé: il s’est entraîné → participe composé: s’étant entraîné

For forms that take étant, the participe passé has to agree with the subject in gender and number. If the participle in question is located in a participle clause without a subject, the ending agrees with the subject of the main clause.

Examples:
S’étant bien entraîné, il gagna le match.Since he had trained well, he won the game.
subject: il, masc. singular

but: S’étant bien entraînée, elle gagna le match.Since she had trained well, she won the game.
subject: elle, fem. singular

Info

When the participe composé is used in passive sentences, the auxiliary être is often omitted. Only the participe passé is present in the sentence.

Example:
Étant encouragé par ses amis, il avait confiance en lui.Encouraged by his friends, he had confidence in himself.
similar to: Éncouragé par ses amis, il avait confiance en lui.

Le gérondif

When to use le gérondif in French

The gérondif (en + verb root + -ant) is restricted to written language. We use it in the following cases:

  • to talk about two simultaneous actions performed by the same subject, similar to the English while + ing
    Example:
    En jouant, Max a marqué un but.While playing, Max scored a goal.
    Max is the subject of both verbs: jouer and marquer
  • to express a condition, similar to an if-clause
    Example:
    En s’entraînant bien, son équipe gagnera aussi le prochain match.If his team trains well, they will be able to win the next game as well.
    = si elle s’entraîne bien…
  • to express the manner in which an action occurs
    Example:
    Il est rentré à la maison en chantant.He came home singing.
  • after expressions such as tout or même to indicate a contrast or opposition
    Example:
    Il a marqué un but tout en courant très peu pendant le jeu.He scored a goal, even though he ran very little during the game.

How to form le gérondif in French

To form the gerund in French we use en + participe présent.

Examples:
aimerto loveen aimant
finirto finishen finissant
dormirto sleep en dormant
vendreto sellen vendant