The French present tense is the most common French tense in conversation. Let’s see how it compares to the English present tenses – yes, tenses with an S…
The aim of this article is to explain the difference of use between the French present tense and the English present tenses.
The aim of this article is not to give you the French verb conjugations in the present tense: do a Google search for that… It’s all over the internet.
Let’s start by defining what a tense is.
1 – What is a Tense?
A tense indicates when the action of the verb is taking place: now, in the past, in the future.
1. A simple tense consists of only one verb form (ie: “I speak”).
2. A compound tense consists of one or more auxiliary verb + a main verb (ie: “I am speaking”, “I have been thinking”).
2 – The French Present Tense
The present tense (le présent) tells you what is happening now.
It can be when the speaker is speaking, an habitual action or a general truth.
This notion is then modified by the grammatical mood. Here is an article about French moods.
3 – The 3 Present Tense Forms In English
The present tense in English has 3 forms, each of them having a slightly different meaning:
1. The present simple: “I speak French”.
2. The present progressive: “I am speaking French”.
3. The present emphatic “I do speak French”.
4 – What is the Present Perfect Progressive in French?
In English, there is also a tense called the present perfect progressive. You use it when an action started in the past but is still going on now.
I have been waiting here for hours.
This tense is mostly used with “for” in English.
5 – The Present Tense In French vs English
In French, there is only one form to translate the three English forms “simple, progressive and emphatic” and the present perfect progressive.
Je parle = I speak, I am speaking, I do speak, I have been speaking.
This is often a big problem for English speakers since you use the progressive form so much in English.
You must be careful to not translate these auxiliary verbs “to be” (progressive form) and “do” (emphatic form), but just use the appropriate French verb ending for the tense you wish to express.
I cannot stress enough how important this point is in French: there is no progressive form in French! We don’t differentiate the action we are in the process of doing with the action we usually do.
This may seem simple as you read this article, but believe me when I say you’re going to need a lot of practice to override your English brain and stop tying to use a non-existant present progressive in French.
Many students of French spend hours learning to write their verbs. And then freeze when it comes to using the correct verb form. It’s such a shame. First, you need to understand when to use the tenses with a clear French learning method and many examples.
Then, once you understand the tenses, you need to drill. Verb conjugations, like anything else in French, need to be learned with audio so you get the right pronunciation, liaisons and elisions with the negative or the French pronouns.