In my textbook, the author uses the phrase "passer un examen," which translates to "to take an exam." So if I want to say that I am taking an exam, then should I conjugate "passer" and write :

  • Je passe un examen

or should I append this phrase in the following manner:

  • Je suis + passer un examen = Je suis passer un examen?
  • 3
    Does anyone see the irony here ? From an English perspective here passer looks like pass the exam. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 11:07
  • @MasonH.Hatfield therés no irony, just some ambiguity as often. It could even be more complex, because after having taken that exam, if you go to a higher level, you would say "je passe dans la classe supérieure"
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:34
  • 1
    as a side note, it is a source of common mistake among french students learning english
    – njzk2
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:49
  • @User-3.14 my french teacher has told us constantly to not use être with an infinitive verb. Je passe un examen means both I take an exam and I am taking an exam.
    – AAM111
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 4:05
  • I would add that "I passed the exam" would be "J'ai réussi l'examen" ou "j'ai été reçu à l'examen" (old-fashioned).
    – Pwassonne
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 20:33

7 Answers 7


"Je passe un examen" is a correct form. "je suis passer..." is wrong.

You can say "je vais passer un examen" to mean "I'm going to take an exam" or "j'ai passé un examen" to mean "I have taken an exam".


If you want to use a present simple as in English, you use "passer", like "Je passe un examen", "tu passes un examen",... But if you want to use a present Be+ing, you should use "être en train de", like "Je suis en train de passer un examen", "tu es en train de passer un examen", etc... We use "être en train de" to describe an action that is happening. I hope I have answered !

  • 4
    This should be the right answer : "être en train de ..." is the good translation for the present BE+ing
    – Charly
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 7:14
  • 7
    @Charly: If you were to turn every use of a continuous tense into an “en train de” that would make a lot of “train”s. There is no such thin as “the good translation” of something in general. “En train de” is sometimes a good translation in some circumstances. I can assure you that you don't want to use it even one tenth as many times as the English progressive construction. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 10:22
  • It is not true that the present continuous is en train de: in French there is only ONE present tense, which can be translated as present simple or continuous in English. en train de is only used when one wants to be very specific in French. Je parle français aujourd'hui parce que etc.=I'm speaking French today. Je parle français le tous les mardi: I speak French every Tuesday. I can't believe this incorrect information got 11 points.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:43
  • @Lambie this is a brilliant explanation of French tense utilization, but right here the person seems to be focused on a way to idiomatically traduce what he wants to say. I think that he already knows this particularity for the translation, and was seeking a way to be more "frenchy"
    – John
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:53
  • The literal translation for "Je passe un examen" is "I take an exam". Sometimes there is no literal translation from French to English because French has in general more syntax and more precise vocabulary than English. The "en train de" is more of a complement in this context, it is used to signify that the action is happening at this very moment. "Je passe un examen" could signify different things, e.g. "Que fais-tu cet après-midi?" "Je passe un examen." In this case the action is happening later. It could even signify distant future: "Je passe un examen le mois prochain." Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 7:54

Be+ing present is often translated with "en train de + verbe" structure, however it is a more heavy construction than it is in English, so it is not used when not necessary. For example:

Que fais-tu ? - Je révise pour mon examen.

Would be translated by:

What are you doing ? - I'm rewiewing for my exam.

And if your mom was calling you in the middle of your exam, you could tell here:

Je suis en plein examen, rappelle-moi plus tard !


Je passe un examen, là, c'est pas le moment !

or even

Je suis en train de passer un examen, et toi comment vas-tu ?

  • Je ne pense pas qu'on dit à quelqu'un "comment vas-tu" lorsqu'on est en train de passer un examen....
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 13:41
  • It is more a joke to make the answer more enjoyable to read. I don't think it goes in the way of its explicative value. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 14:57
  • [[I don't think it interferes with its explanatory value.]]
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 15:14
  • be-ing is not usually translated as être en train de.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 20:45

French has one present tense only. English has two (present simple and present continuous). Depending on context, the English present and present continuous always translate to the French present tense. There are some exceptions where one might use en train de, but there is no hard and fixed rule for this.

I speak French every Tuesday at school = Je parle français tous les mardis à l'école.

I'm working at IBM this week = Je travaille chez IBM cette semaine.

That said, in French, être en train de would usually translate as the present continuous in English.

Où sont-ils? Réponse: Ils sont en train de faire la lessive. Translation: They're doing the laundry.

In the example given, I'm taking an exam. The normal translation is: Je passe un examen. Only in some circumstances might one say: Je suis en train de passer un examen. [Presumably, if you are taking an exam, you would be able to talk about it to anyone unless you're on a cell, which is probably not allowed]. But even in this case, in French, Je passe un examen would be understood by a French speaker as something happening in the present continuous sense of the verb (am taking) in English.

  • I am having a real problem with edits to my answers. I simply do not understand them. I also do not understand the mechanics of how they work. I reread my answer with great care and it was structured how I wanted it to be structured.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 15:10
  • 3
    If you do not agree with an edit, you can roll back to your version clicking on "edited 3 hours ago" (or whatever the timing will be). Looking at the history of the edits, you did that for Stéphane's edit so I am not sure where the problem is? This said, the current italicized version is more readable IMHO.
    – WoJ
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 13:49

Je passe un examen

Is right. Others mentioned:

Je suis en examen

That is also ok but can also mean I'm being charged with..

I want to add the simpler form:

J'ai un examen

That is the most popular use in spoken French and will be followed by a time indication, for example:

J'ai un examen ce soir (I'm taking an exam tonight)

  • "Je suis en examen" now means something else: to be arrested and charged...
    – Softlion
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 12:27

If you want to say you just finished it

Je viens de passer un examen

If you want to say you're passing it right now

Je suis en train de passer un examen

If you want to say you are going to take an exam

Je vais passer un examen

French language is usually slightly more exact with timings and less flexible than english.

  • If you want to say you are taking it right now....No, the French language is not more exact than English. That is a myth perpetrated by those who are not linguists. All languages are "exact".
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 11:03

In french, I am taking a exam = Je prends un examen. The verb prendre means to take. The verb passer means to pass. Je passe un examen means I pass a exam. Je prends un examen -I am taking a exam Je prenderai un examen - I will take an examen J'ai pris un examen -I took an exam

Je suis fatigue et Je prends un pause. I am tired and I am taking a break.

  • 2
    Ceci ne répond pas à la question. This is not an answer to the question.
    – None
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 8:01

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