Le participe présent – the present participle in French

What is le participe présent ?

Le participe présent (the present participle) is the verb form that ends in -ant; it is an impersonal form, so cannot be conjugated, and is similar to the English -ing form. We can use the present participle as a verb, in which case its form does not change, or as an adjective (adjectif verbal), in which case it agrees in gender and number with the noun it describes.

Read on to learn all about the French present participle and when to use it, then test yourself in the exercises.

How to form le participe présent

To form the French present participle, we take the nous form of the verb in the present tense and replace the ending -ons with -ant.

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

Irregular present participles

There are three verbs that have irregular present participles:

avoir – ayant
être – étant
savoir – sachant

When to use le participe présent

There are two main uses of the present participle; as an adjective and as a verb:

  • As an adjective, the present participle expresses a state or quality. In this function, it is known as an adjectif verbal and must agree in gender and number with the noun it describes. This usage is common in both spoken and written French.
    Examples:
    C’est une équipe suprenante.It’s a surprising team.
    C’ést un match passionant.It’s an exciting match.
  • As a verb, the present participle is similar to the English -ing form; it expresses an action that is in progress at the moment of speaking or an action that occurs parallel to another. Its form is invariable (it does not change according to gender and number). This usage of the present participle appears mostly in written language.
    Example:
    Le joueur, suprenant ses adversaires, s’empare de la balle.The player, surprising his opponents, grabs the ball.

As a verb, the present participle is often used in place of different types of subordinate clauses:

The participe présent instead of a relative clause

The present participle can replace a relative clause. In this function, the present participle refers to a noun or a pronoun but does not agree in gender or number.

Examples:
Max, ayant le ballon devant lui, court vers l’autre bout du terrain.Max, having the ball in front of him, runs to the other end of the pitch.
= Max, qui a le ballon devant lui, court vers l’autre bout du terrain.
Les spectateurs criant dans les tribunes encouragent les joueurs.Fans shouting in the stands cheer on the players.
= Les spectateurs qui crient dans les tribunes encouragent les joueurs.

This use of the present participle is usually seen in formal written contexts such as newspaper articles or scientific journals.

The participe présent instead of an adverbial clause

The present participle can also replace an adverbial clause (proposition subordonnée circonstancielle). These are subordinate clauses that express a reason, a purpose, a time, a condition, etc. Again, the present participle is invariable.

We can use the present participle to replace the following types of adverbial clauses:

  • time clauses
    Example:
    Apercevant une faille dans les défenses de l’adversaire, Max marque un but.Seeing a gap in the opponent’s defense, Max scores a goal.
    = Au moment où il aperçoit une faille dans les défenses de l’adversaire, Max marque un but.
  • clauses that express a reason or cause
    Example:
    Voulant marquer un but, Max s’est concentré sur le ballon.Hoping to score a goal, Max concentrates on the ball.
    = Comme il voulait marquer un but, Max s’est concentré sur le ballon.
  • clauses that express a result or consequence
    Example:
    Max a marqué un but, assurant ainsi la victoire à son équipe.Max scored a goal, securing a win for his team.
    = Max a marqué un but, de sorte qu’il a assuré la victoire à son équipe.
  • conditional clauses (if-clauses)
    Example:
    S’entraînant plus régulièrement, l’équipe adverse pourrait gagner le prochain match.If they trained more regularly, the opposing team could win the next match.
    = Si elle s’entraînait plus régulièrement, l’équipe adverse pourrait gagner le prochain match.

Le participe présent in participle clauses

The present participle also appears in the aptly named participle clauses. These are subordinate clauses that express simultaneous or sequential events as well as cause and effect. The subject of the participle clause is always different to the subject in the main clause.

Example:
Le temps n’étant pas trop mauvais, Max a pu jouer au foot.Since the weather wasn’t too bad, Max was able to play football.
subject in the participle clause = le temps
subject in the main clause = Max

Verbs with two participe présent forms

Some verbs have different forms depending on whether they are being used as a participe présent or an adjectif verbal. In some cases (but not all), this difference also signifies a change in meaning. See the table below for more information. Tip: hover over the words to see their translations.

Verb Participe présent Adjectif verbal
convaincreto convince convainquantconvincing convaincantconvincing, persuasive
convergerto converge, to meet convergeantmeeting convergentconvergent
différerto differ différantdiffering différentdifferent, other
divergerto diverge divergeantdiverging divergentdivergent
èquivaloirto be equivalent to équivalantequating to équivalentequivalent, equal
excellerto excel excellantexcelling excellentexcellent
fatiguerto tire fatiguanttiring fatiganttiresome
influerto influence influantinfluencing influentinfluential
intriguerto scheme intriguantscheming intrigantscheming, calculating
naviguerto sail, to navigate naviguantsailing, navigating navigantflying, flight
négligerto neglect négligeantneglecting négligentcareless
précéderto arrive before précédantarriving before précédentprevious
provoquerto cause, to provoke provoquantcausing, provoking provocantprovocative
suffoquerto suffocate suffoquantsuffocating suffocantstifling, staggering