Present Tense

Le présent de l’indicatif

The French present tense, also known as the present indicative, is fairly similar to the English simple present, but there are some key differences. The French present tense can talk about any of the following:

1. A current action or state of being

Je travaille.   I’m working.
Il est en retard.   He’s late.

2. A habitual action or state of being

Oui, je travaille le dimanche.   Yes, I do work on Sundays.
Il est toujours en retard.   He’s always late.

3. An action which is about to occur

Je travaille demain.   I’m working tomorrow.
Il arrive sur-le-champ.   He’ll be right here.

4. An absolute or general truth

Le soleil se lève à l’est.   The sun rises in the east.
L’eau est essentielle à la vie.   Water is essential to life.

5. Conditions in likely situations (si clauses)

Si tu veux, tu peux dîner avec moi.   If you want, you can have dinner with me.
Je vais le renvoyer s’il est en retard demain.   I’m going to fire him if he’s late tomorrow.

6. In historical accounts

  French vs English

Much of the above applies to the English present tense, but as you can see in some of the translations, there’s just one French present tense with three possible English equivalents. Depending on the context, je parle might be translated by any of these:

1. I speak simple present
2. I am speaking present progressive
3. I do speak present emphatic

There’s no present progressive (to be + present participle) in French: je suis parlant simply does not exist. Not only is it perfectly acceptable to say je parle maintenant to mean "I’m speaking right now," it’s the most common way to say it. If you want to stress that you are doing something right at this very moment, you can use the expression être en train de; literally, "to be in the process of." For example, je suis en train de parler. However, this construction is far less common than the English present progressive; in most cases, the regular old present tense works just fine in French.

Nor does French have a present emphatic. In most contexts, Oui, je parle français is a fine translation of "Yes, I do speak French." If you really want to get that same stress across, you have to use an adverb such as effectivement or en effet: Oui, en effet, je parle français.

For actions that began in the past and continue into the present, French uses depuis plus the simple present, while English uses "since" with the present perfect: J’habite ici depuis un an – "I’ve lived here for a year."

  In English, the present tense is used after conjunctions that indicate a future action. In French, however, this is incorrect: these conjunctions must be followed by the future instead.

Par exemple…

Je vais manger dès que je rentrerai.   I’m going to eat as soon as I will arrive at home.
Je vais manger dès que je rentre.   I’m going to eat as soon as I arrive at home.

Present tense conjugations


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