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My French textbook is not that great so the translations are not that good. Tried a few dictionaries but could not narrow down an answer so I will try this forum.

"Vous fumez ? demande Eric en allumant une cigarette"

I am curious how to translate "en allumant une cigarette"?

Would: "...while lighting a cigarette" be a good description of the action?

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Yes, "while lighting a cigarette" is probably the best translation here.

This form of the verb, the present participle, is used often like the English "-ing,"* though it is not used as often as we do in English. Generally it will be translated as either "Upon doing something" or "While doing something" such as

Elle lisait en mangeant

She read while eating

Or it will be translated using "by", as in "he did something by doing something.

Elle a maigri en faisant beaucoup de sport.

She got thin by exercising a lot

(I took the examples from the french.about site related to the topic, where you can find more examples as well as a third use-case for this form, it's often a good site if you want to get a clear and easy to understand overview of a topic.)


* It's worth noting here that saying it is like "-ing" is true but dangerous. It cannot be used like the english present continuous tense "I am playing," nor can it be used after other verbs, e.g. "I hate cooking". In these cases French just uses the present tense or a noun in the place of the verb. Information as to when not to use this form of the verb can also be found on the site I linked to above.

  • Merci beaucoup. You are a hero. The translation in my textbook says something different. I awarded you the point/s. – Lisa Oct 27 '16 at 18:55
  • @Lisa Not a problem. Just out of interest, how does the textbook translate it? It could be that that there is more than one way of doing it, though I can't think of any others that would be correct in this context. – Harvey Oct 27 '16 at 18:57
  • @Lisa: Note that you can also upvote helpful answers, in addition to accepting them. It's useful in that you can upvote many answers even if there can be only one "accepted" answer. Welcome to fr.StackExchange :) – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 27 '16 at 20:20

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