Present Participles in French

If you are familiar with the practice of meditation, you will know that this is an exercise in focusing on the present. During meditation, you might sit with good posture and close your eyes while paying attention to your breathing, in order to bring your attention to the present moment. Present participles also bring our focus to the action or context of action expressed in a particular setting, relating to the specific moment at which the principal action occurs.

What are Present Participles?

Present participles are formed from verbs, act as verbs, and are able to take objects, but they are non-finite, not being inflected for gender or number. They may also take on the value of an adjective, as they are descriptive. The term participe présent is defined as “qui exprime une action simultanée à l’action exprimée soit par le verbe de la principale, soit par le contexte” ( Present participles may thus illustrate an action that coincides with another constituent of a sentence, giving more detail and depth to the ideas being expressed. The word participe comes from the Latin word participium, which indicates a partaking of, sharing, or participation. Present participles indeed participate in conveying contributing actions and characteristics of the main ideas expressed in a sentence or clause.

Present participles are often given minimal treatment in French classes until students get to more advanced levels. They are not required in order to be able to write first and second year compositions, but they are useful for reading a wide variety of texts and are used in certain constructions with which students should be familiar as they are learning to place actions within a sequence, or show cause and effect. They can also be used to express certain ideas with efficiency. Compare the sentences below:

  • Fermant les yeux, l’homme a assumé une posture stable qui lui permettait de se concentrer sur sa respiration.
  • L’homme a fermé les yeux. En même temps, il a assumé une posture stable qui lui permettait de se concentrer sur sa respiration.

The first sentence ties the man’s closing of the eyes into the other actions that prepare him for meditation. It is a more economical expression of all of the factors contributing to the man’s meditation than the subsequent sentences.

Formation of Present Participles

To form the present participle, remove the ending from the 1st person plural form of the present tense of a verb and add -ant:

Verb Present Participle Verb Present Participle
choisir choisissons → choisissant lancer lançons → lançant
croire croyons → croyant pouvoir pouvons → pouvant
danser dansons → dansant rendre rendons → rendant
faire faisons → faisant voir voyons → voyant

Exceptions to this structure occur with the following verbs:

Verb Present participle
avoir ayant
être étant
savoir sachant

The participle étant may already be familiar to you in the phrases étant donné or étant donné que, which express a condition and correspond to the English phrases given that or considering.

  • Étant donné les effets bénéfiques de la méditation, il n’est pas surprenant que cette pratique devienne de plus en plus répandue dans cette région.
  • Étant donné que son objectif est de mieux dormir, ses efforts de se calmer sont compréhensibles.

The Usage of French Present Participles

The efficiency of phrasing allowed by present participles is related to their use in different constructions, such as the gerundive and perfect participles.

Le Gérondif

Le gérondif is formed with the preposition en and the present participle. It shows source, cause, or simultaneous action. The term is from the Latin word gerundium, from the verb gerere, meaning “accomplir, exécuter, faire” ( Notice that, because they use present participles, gerundives do not change in gender or number.

  • En écoutant sa prof, l’élève a compris comment faire cette posture de yoga.
  • C’est en respirant plus lentement et d’une façon plus uniforme qu’il a réussi à se calmer.
  • En s’asseyant sur un coussin, il commence sa méditation.

Le gérondif responds to the questions “when?” (en = while) and “how?” (en = in, by). Simultaneity can also be expressed with tout en + participe présent, e.g., “Il s’est calmé tout en respirant d’une façon lente et régulière”.

Le Participe Parfait

Le participe parfait is formed with the present participle of the auxiliary verb and the past participle of the main verb. It places actions in sequence.

  • S’étant levé de bonne heure, l’homme a pu commencer sa méditation au lever du soleil.
  • N’ayant pas d’emploi du temps régulier, il pratique le yoga à des moments aléatoires au cours de la semaine.

The subject of the perfect participle can be different from that of the main clause:

  • Les élèves ayant pratiqué la première posture, la prof peut continuer avec sa démonstration.
  • Les élèves n’ayant pas révisé la séquence, la prof a dû l’expliquer encore une fois.

Participe Présent vs. Adjectif Verbal

As noted above, present participles may act as verbs and as adjectives. When used as adjectives, they are often called adjectifs verbaux. Present participles used as verbs look very similar to verbal adjectives, but serve slightly different purposes and function in different ways. Present participles take complements, such as direct and indirect objects, or prepositional complements. Verbal adjectives generally qualify a noun or noun phrase. Whereas present participles are invariable, verbal adjectives change according to the gender and number of what they are modifying.


  • Dans les jours suivants, ils ont réussi à méditer tous les jours.
  • Dans les jours suivant la première séance, ils ont réussi à méditer tous les jours.

Since both present participles and verbal adjectives are derived from verbs, they look very similar and it is easy to confuse them, especially as they both have -ant endings and can appear in similar positions within sentences, as shown above. Sometimes verbal adjectives are spelled differently from present participles, although the pronunciation remains the same.

Here is a list of verbs ending in -guer, along with the present participles and verbal adjectives derived from them:

Verb Present Participle Verbal Adjective
déléguer déléguant délégant
distinguer distinguant distingant
extravaguer extravaguant extravagant
fatiguer fatiguant fatigant
intriguer intriguant intrigant
naviguer naviguant navigant

Other participles and verbal adjectives derived from verbs have slightly different spellings:

Verb Present Participle verbal adjective
communiquer communiquant communicant
convaincre convainquant convaincant
intoxiquer intoxiquant intoxicant
provoquer provoquant provocant
suffoquer suffoquant suffocant

In the above examples, it is possible to see from the spelling the function that each word takes on. The verbal adjectives do, of course, change in gender and number, but I have included the masculine singular forms above to illustrate the degree to which verbal adjectives and present participles can be similar. Thus, we could say: “Ces chants intoxicants ont de grands effets” or “Ils nous attendent dans la salle communicante”.

Although it is possible to see the difference between some verbal adjectives and present participles, many are spelled in exactly the same way! Here are some familiar ones:

Verb Present Participle verbal adjective
battre battant battant
changer changeant changeant
éclairer éclairant éclairant
exceller excellant excellant
marquer marquant marquant
peser pesant pesant
piquer piquant piquant
suivre suivant suivant
vivre vivant vivant

In addition to this, there are nouns that end in -ant. Some of them correspond to verbs ... and some do not:

Nouns Correspond to Verbs Nouns DON'T Correspond to Verbs
adragant constant
fabricant enfant
passant gant
prétendant monument
suffragant transparent

There are also adjectives ending in -ant and, as with the nouns above, some correspond to verbs ... while others do not:

Adjectives correspond to verbs Adjectives DON'T correspond to verbs
bienséant* ambiant
émouvant arrogant
étonnant élégant
flagrant exubérant
tolérant indépendant

*This adjective is not necessarily considered to be derived from a verb, but its origins are found in the words bien + séant, which is derived from the verb seoir.

In addition, there are prepositions with -ant endings, such as devant and pendant, the latter of which should not be confused with the noun pendant, meaning counterpart, or the present participle or verbal adjective pendant, both derived from the verb pendre.

I will leave you with a quotation from the poem “À une passante”, from Charles Baudelaire’s volume, Les Fleurs du mal, and you can draw your own conclusions about the -ant words included both in the title of the poem and in its first line: “La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait”. This would also be a good context in which to hone your meditative practices.

 “La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait”


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