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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Candice here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I'll answer your most common French questions.
The question for this lesson is What is the gérondif and when should I use it?
Le gérondif is like the “-ing” form of a verb. It’s very useful for adding additional information about a subject or verb. To make le gérondif, you first need the past participle – nous stem but with -ant.
You can use le gérondif to describe how or why something happens. For example, En me brossant les dents deux fois par jour, j’évite d’avoir des caries means “By brushing my teeth twice a day, I prevent cavities.” And J'ai amélioré mon français en pratiquant tous les jours means “I improved my French by practicing every day.” Finally, Il se détend en faisant du sport means “He relaxes by doing sports.”
You can also use the gerund to describe two simultaneous actions. For example, J’ai dîné en lisant un roman means “I ate dinner while reading a novel.” Notice that lisant is preceded by en. This is how you know that the action is simultaneous. For example, J’ai vu un ancien ami en sortant du cinéma means “I saw a former friend while leaving the movie theater.” Let’s look at the difference when we omit en. J’ai vu un ancien ami sortant du cinéma means “I saw a former friend leaving the movie theater.” Here it is implied that it was the former friend leaving the movie theater, not you.
The second example is technically not le gérondif, because it modifies the noun, l’ancien ami, not a verb. But it can still be useful. Just like in English, make sure the present participle matches the subject. Take for example, Sachant les risques, une commission sera formée meaning “Knowing the dangers, a committee will be formed.” This is incorrect, because the committee can’t know the dangers when it hasn’t even been made yet. Instead, you’d say Sachant les risques, le président a formé une commission meaning “Knowing the dangers, the president formed a committee.” This is much better.
Also, there are only three irregular present participles. Two of them you heard in this lesson – avoir, ayant and savoir, sachant. The last one is être, étant.
Pretty neat, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A bientôt, see you in another series!