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I am using Duolingo to learn French at the moment and sometimes it asks me to translate an English phrase into French with multiple options, one using "en train" and one not (often I'm marked as incorrect because I didn't select both options). I don't know how to tell if the "en train" phrase is correct or not. I'm afraid I can't give an example because I don't understand the structure. I have tried using Google Translate in the past to work out the difference but "en train" simply disappears when translated into English.

Would someone please provide an example English sentence that can be translated both ways and explain the difference?

I am a beginning French learner so if you answer in French I won't be able to understand you! English only please!

14

Être + en train + de + the infinitive of the verb is the french structure of the english progressive form : To be + gerund.

The progressive form is used to express an ongoing action.

Ex: Je me prépare. Je suis en train de me préparer. I am getting ready.

Ex: L'avion atterrit. L'avion est en train d'atterrir. The plane is landing.

Ex: Nous déjeunions. Nous étions en train de déjeuner. We were having lunch.

  • This answer is 95% of the way to being accepted. All it needs is a couple of examples each way, such as je mange I eat/I am eating, je suis en train de manger I am eating (if I got my French right). – CJ Dennis Feb 24 '15 at 7:12
  • I only just saw your edit. If I understand correctly, Je me prépare can mean either I am getting ready or I get ready but Je suis en train de me préparer only means I am getting ready not I get ready. – CJ Dennis Mar 5 '15 at 7:43
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I think of en train de as Circeus stated, to express something I'm in the middle of doing. Alternatively, without the "de", you might say that we got a project underway with:

Nous mettons le projet en train

There is also an expression (more literary) where en train means to be in good mental or physical health. So one might say, he's not in good spirits at the moment, he must have some concerns with:

Il n'est pas très en train en ce moment : il doit avoir des soucis.

4

English divides time up differently from French. It might help you to understand the subtleties in English first -- most native speakers haven't ever had to think about it.

In English, we (subconsciously!) divide verbs into active and stative verbs. Roughly, the distinction is that an active verb is something you do whereas a stative verb is something you are or experience. Active verbs include go, walk, hit and stative verbs include be, love, miss.

In English, for an active verb, we use the present tense if we wish to talk about habitual action, and we use the present progressive if we wish to talk about current action. For instance, consider the difference in the sentences "I am going to work. I go to work."

For a stative verb, the present tense talks about action right now, and the present progressive is rare, emphasisizing something particularly transient about the action. "I miss you." "I see a fruit on the table." Non-native speakers often bungle this, saying things like "Are you smelling coffee?"

However, if we really want to insist that the stative action is happening right now, we can indeed use the present progressive, even though it's rare: "I'm lovin' it" [MacDonald's slogan]. "I'm reading your favorite book right now [usual use of progressive for active verb read] and I'm missing you [unusual use of progressive for stative verb miss, converts "miss" to an active sensation instead of the usual use]." You can think of this as converting to an active verb.

What has this got to do with French? The simple answer is that French does not show this distinction between active and stative verbs in the present tense. The simple present can refer to habitual action or to action that is taking place right now, whether the verb is active or stative.

Je vais à l'école.

can mean either that I go to school every day, or that I'm going right now. There is no need to make a distinction unless it's important to the conversation.

So if you want to insist that the action is right now, and not habitual, you need some other expression; this is where « en train » comes in.

Je suis en train d'aller à l'école, est-ce que je peux vous rappeler plus tard ?

Note that native English speakers tend to overuse "en train" with active verbs, when we translate English word-for-word. This sounds funny to them the same way "I am smelling coffee" [stative verb wrongly in progressive] sounds a little funny to us. In French, you only use it when it's necessary to the conversation to indicate that the action is right now and not habitual.

  • I'm loving your answer. – YoungFrog Jan 23 '17 at 6:25
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The expression referred to is probably en train de which is a construction used with the specific meaning of something that is happening right now. It's (roughly) equivalent to the continuous tenses of English:

Elle est en train de chanter.

She is singing.

J'étais en train de manger.

I was eating.

  • Would you give the French examples without en train de as well please? – CJ Dennis Feb 24 '15 at 2:48
  • Using the same examples: "Elle chante", "Je mange" you could add "présentement" to each. – Bernard Massé Feb 24 '15 at 4:51
  • @BernardMassé In France présentement would not be used with that meaning nowadays, it is a quebecism. – Laure Feb 24 '15 at 6:14
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To sum up a little bit what it has been written.

"être en train de faire quelque chose" means that the fact of doing something continues on some time space. Especially, this one is used for actions which take time (like doing a homework)

An example :

Je suis en train de faire mon devoir.

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I think the closest meaning is "in the process of" or "trying to" or even "currently".

Notice the distinction between:

I am currently answering your question

Je suis en train de répondre à votre question

I am answering your question

Je réponds à votre question

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