Être en train de

Le train est en train de cracher une fumée noire
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Grammatical French Expression

Meaning to be ___-ing, to be in the process of
Literally to be in (the) action of
Register normal
Pronunciation [eh tra(n) treh(n) deu]
IPA   [ɜ tʀã tʀɛ̃ də]

Usage notes: There’s no présent progressif in French, nothing grammatically equivalent to the English present progressive. So if you can’t use the present participle, how can you translate something like "I’m eating?" In most situations, you just use the present tense:

Par exemple…

Je mange.   I’m eating.
Le train crache une fumée noire.   The train is belching black smoke.

But of course, those can also mean "I eat" and "the train belches black smoke." When you really want to make that distinction between "verb" and "is verbing," you need the expression être en train de plus the infinitive of the action verb.

Par exemple…

Je suis en train de manger.   I’m eating (right now), I’m in the process of eating.
Le train est en train de cracher une fumée noire.   The train is belching black smoke, right now.

Être en train de can also be used in the past, by conjugating être in the imperfect.

Par exemple…

J’étais en train de manger quand tu es arrivé.   I was eating (right at the moment) you arrived.
Les biscuits étaient en train de cuire.   The cookies were cooking (right then).

  Be careful not to overuse this expression. The French present tense is usually sufficient; être en train de should be used only to stress a current and ongoing action.

Somewhat synonymous

Être en cours de – the meaning is similar, but this expression is passive and is usually followed by a noun rather than a verb:
L’autoroute est en cours de construction.   The highway is under construction / being built.

  The French present participle cannot be used to translate be + -ing. Je suis mangeant and le train est crachant make no sense at all.

 Related lessons

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Être en train de
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