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Present Participles

You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?

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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 -antpensant (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 magic

Caption 11, Alsace 20 - Grand sapin de Strasbourg: tout un art pour le décorer!

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Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos

Myself, despite having a problem with my back

Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à Paris

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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 Dinsheim

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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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 (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" - Degas

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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 guerre

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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!

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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 Michel

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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!

Grammar

Habiter and Vivre: Two Ways of Living

Habiter and vivre both mean "to live" in French, but they're used in slightly different contexts. Habiter is very similar in meaning to its English cognate, "to inhabit": it generally refers to where a person is living. While vivre can also have this meaning, it more often refers to a person's living conditions or general existence. Let's look at some examples to illustrate the difference between these two lively verbs. 

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It's very common to place a preposition such as à or dans after habiter to describe where you're living: 

 

On habite à Still, on a eu une superbe opportunité.

We live in Still, we had a superb opportunity.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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J'habite dans une maison bleue. 
live in a blue house. 

 

But technically, habiter doesn't require a preposition at all. You could just as well say on habite Still (we live in Still) or j'habite une maison bleue (I live in a blue house). The choice is yours! Here's another example of habiter without a preposition: 

 

De là à habiter ce bout du monde isolé...

From there to inhabiting this isolated end of the world...

Caption 3, Le Journal - L'île de Pâques

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Whereas habiter describes the specifics of a person's living situation, vivre is more about la vie en général (life in general). It describes how a person lives, or what their life is like:  

 

Elle a permis à Michel, sinon de faire fortune, du moins de vivre bien, avec sa petite famille...

It has allowed Michel, if not to become rich, at least to live well with his small family...

Captions 17-19, Le Journal - L'île de Pâques

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...un petit village, qui vit son quotidien de manière tranquille.

...a small village, that lives its daily life in a quiet way.

Captions 5-6, Lionel et Chantal - à Frémestroff

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Vivre can also mean "to live through" or "to experience":

 

Moi je dirais que c'est magique et que ça se raconte pas, qu'il faut le vivre.

I'd say that it's magical and that it can't be described, that you have to experience it.

Caption 26, TV Vendée - "Nieul Village de Lumière"

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No matter where you're living or how you're living, we hope your French studies are going well!

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Vocabulary

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