As its name indicates, the present tense is used to describe actions
taking place in the present. French has only one present tense, while English
can express present actions four different ways. Compare:
In French these are all expressed by: je travaille.
I am working
I do work
I have been working
Three special structures can be used to emphasize or skew the time frame
of the present:
1. To emphasize the present and to express being "in the midst" of an
activity, use the expression, "être en train de
2. To use the present tense to indicate the recent
past, use "venir de + infinitive":
Je suis en train de travailler. I am in the middle
The recent past construction may also be used in the imperfect to express
Nous venons de finir notre déjeuner. We just
finished our lunch.
Elle vient d'arriver. She just arrived.
3. To use the present tense to refer to the
near future (futur proche), use "aller
In addition, French uses the present tense
in certain phrases to express actions which began in the past but which
are ongoing. These expressions include "depuis", "il y a... que",
"voici... que", "voilà... que", "ça fait...
que", and the interrogatives, "depuis quand..." and "depuis
combien de temps...":
Elle va repartir demain matin. She is going to leave
again tomorrow morning.
Ce matin, nous allons faire le ménage. This
morning we are going to clean up the house.
Je suis à Paris depuis trois semaines. I have
been in Paris for three weeks.
Ça fait des années qu'il raconte cette histoire! He
has been telling that story for years!
Depuis quand êtes-vous au Québec? How
long have you been in Quebec?
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