You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?
Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating).
Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -ant: pensant (thinking).
Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).
Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):
Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie
Knowing that the goal is to create magicPlay Caption
Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos
Myself, despite having a problem with my back
Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à ParisPlay Caption
Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir.
Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):
Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim
Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of DinsheimPlay Caption
In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant né (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that.
A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.
Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - DegasPlay Caption
Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.
Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism
Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerrePlay Caption
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism
Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:
Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?
A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?
Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!Play Caption
Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:
Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.
Celebrities are often very attractive.
If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)
Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi
Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know
Caption 104, Miniji MichelPlay Caption
On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.
You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.
Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives.
If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:
On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.
You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes.
Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.
We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund.
En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!