Pourquoi n'y a-t-il pas de temps progressif du présent ?

M. Lechat coupe la haie.

pourrait se traduire par

Mr Lechat cuts the hedge.


Mr Lechat is cutting the hedge.

Bien sûr on peut utiliser des périphrases verbales :

s'apprêter à, être sur le point de, être en train de

mais je me demande toujours pourquoi ce manque. (Au fait ce manque existe aussi en allemand sauf erreur de ma part.)

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    Je ne sais pas pourquoi cela n'existe pas mais, il est très courant d'employer « M. Lechat est en train de couper la haie. » – Toto Jun 23 '18 at 11:44
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    Une question très raisonnable, aucune raison de downvoter. – Luke Sawczak Aug 24 '18 at 2:46
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    Mr Lechat cuts the hedge ne peut être traduit comme ça; cette phrase implique une habitude, mais ne dit en rien que Mr Lechat coupe la haie maintenant (on dit qu'il à l'habitude de le faire, pas qu'il le fait maintenant) – damadam Aug 24 '18 at 7:22

English is relatively unique in emphasizing the present progressive over the simple present. Why the simple present should seem to mean that something happens regularly ("I eat meat") and not right now is a good question for ELU or Linguistics. I'd be interested to learn how that developed.

French, on the other hand, follows the majority of European languages in using the simple present to mean that something is happening now.

That said, other Latinate languages do have a progressive that looks like English's. Spanish:

Como sopa de pollo vs. Estoy comiendo sopa de pollo
(I'm eating chicken soup)


Vengo vs. Sto venendo
(I'm coming)

So it is somewhat unexpected that the equivalent strategy is an ear-grating mistake in French:

Je viens vs. *Je suis venant
(I'm coming)

However, a language can always fall back on periphrasis to capture a meaning, and in this case the periphrasis is grammaticalized (it's just a tense marker, not analyzed as separate words):

Je suis en train de venir.

What French has in common with the other Romance languages is that the explicit progressive is less common than the simple present, since the latter covers both meanings unless you want to strongly emphasize the progressive aspect.

  • 1
    Whoops, I just reread your question and saw that you mentioned periphrasis already. I guess my answer would come down to: Because the simple present covers this sense most of the time even though it doesn't in English. – Luke Sawczak Jun 23 '18 at 15:42
  • ear-grating mistake ??? Toi même! Moi... je suis aimant, je suis même ayant aimé, je suis mourant... Rien de tout cela me pique l'oreille. (Ni celle de très bons auteurs au demeurant) – aCOSwt Aug 23 '18 at 22:44
  • Allant m'en aller, je me dis même que pour la peine... ce ear-grating... serait bien méritant d'un -1! Bon... attachant de la valeur à ma bonté d'âme, je quitte en ne le faisant pas. ;) – aCOSwt Aug 23 '18 at 22:54
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    @aCOSwt The types you list are quasi-adjectives, I'd say. The mistake I hear from the anglophone students of mine runs more like this: « Qu'est-ce que tu es faisant maintenant ? — Je suis mangeant une pomme, je suis marchant à l'école, je suis lisant mon livre, je suis envoyant un texto, je me suis brossant les dents ... » If that isn't ear-grating we have a longer conversation to have. ;) Comme l'auxiliaire manque ... est manquant ... de tes exemples ci-dessous, c'est vrai qu'il n'y a aucun problème. – Luke Sawczak Aug 23 '18 at 23:13

Unless there has been in the past traces of a trend soon vanished and related studies to be consulted, a question such as "Why aren't there progressive tenses in French" can be left, I think, to the wonderings of a poet, would there be one to find the exercise interesting. It's a little bit as asking "Why does water runs downwards?"; about all we can answer to that is that if there is a creator, well, he's decided it to be so. What could it be that deprived that language of what is in the English language a staple means of expression? The French never thought of it, never could see this possibility as helpful? At the level of whimsicalities, a confirmed agent of change and creation in matters linguistic, there is again a good deal of speculation that might be made. Would you search for answers in the realm of the logic associated with language? Surely not, as no language is organised on the basis of an all encompassing logic; all the logic we can apply to language is applied in restricted domains and by using only the rudiments of logic (most of all the logical constructions that has left us Lewis Carroll are useless except as curiosities and mental exercise), and the linguist has soon no use for all the complexity of logic. I do not think there is a reason that one could establish on sound enough logical grounds; as myriad questions of that sort we're bound to dismiss that one as we do in reflecting about the particular position and shape of a knot in a piece of oak, it's just there.

It should be added, as concerns the rest of the question that it contains the statement of a flagrant misconception. The time called "present" in English does not correspond to the usual french "présent"; in English there are three variants of which the most important is called the "state present"; it's the tense of actions that have no definite beginning and no definite end, just as the tense "imparfait" in French, except that the span of the action encompasses past and present; "Mr Lechat cuts the hedge." is not equivalent to "Mr Lechat is cutting the hedge."

Let's make precise enough how that tense is used. One must understand that when the sentence is spoken the subject is almost never doing the action at the same time except by sheer coincidence; the tense expresses that the subject does habitually this action: he has done it in the past, he does it today and normally he'll be doing it in times to come; there are various ways of saying that in French: "Tous les deux mois M. Lechat coupe sa haie.", "M. Lechat a l'habitude de couper sa haie.", "M. lechat et M. Souris se sont mis d'accord un jour l'année dernière: depuis M. Lechat coupe la haie et M. Souris coupe la pelouse."

When the subject is doing the action at the time of speaking the state present must never be used; then, the progressive is used:

"M. Lechat is cutting the lawn."

In French there are then two possibilities: M.Lechat est en train de couper sa haie." (less common) et "M.Lechat coupe sa haie." (common).

  • I would say M. Lechat coupe sa haie is more common than M. Lechat est en train de couper sa haie, the context is usually more than enough to sort out the meaning. Être en train is used to emphasize the fact it is happening right now. – jlliagre Aug 24 '18 at 15:45
  • On second thought I think that you're probably right; should I make the change myself or would you rather do that (your credit in the end)?@jlliagre – LPH Aug 24 '18 at 15:49
  • Go ahead as you agree with my comment, no problem. I normally only edit answers to fix typos/grammar or clarify the presentation. – jlliagre Aug 24 '18 at 16:05
  • By the way, water goes downwards because of the law of universal gravitation ;-) – jlliagre Aug 24 '18 at 16:09
  • This question is of the same nature; it only delves deeper into the realm of cause and effect; Why is there a law of universal gravitation? (don't tell me "To make water go downwards!) – LPH Aug 24 '18 at 16:29

Mais bien sûr qu'il existe ce "temps progressif du présent"

Pas besoin de périphrase pour l'exprimer et encore moins du très vilain en train de.

Le participe présent est très exactement fait pour cela.

Ton M. Lechat is cutting the hedge. se traduit très bien par M Lechat coupant sa haie. Tu connais certainement la statue de Saint George tuant le dragon et non Saint George en train de tuer le dragon et tétrachiée de titres d’œuvres d'art à l'avenant.

Note que... C'est passant ici par hasard que je répond.

  • 5
    Traduit très bien est exagéré. Je suis d'accord avec le fait que le progressif est bien rendu mais on a une phrase classique au présent en anglais alors que la phrase française s'apparente plus à une description, comme celle de titres de tableaux que tu as justement pris comme exemples. Mr Lechat is cutting the hedge n'est pas l'équivalent de Mr Lechat cutting the hedge. – jlliagre Aug 23 '18 at 23:45
  • A little browsing of those two references should put you straight on the use of gerunds; chercher « gérondif » dans le TLFi regarder à « [B. En fr.] » puis chercher à fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%A9rondif et regarder à « Autres langues Anglais ». Il ne faut pas confondre « gérondif » et « temps conjugué employant le gérondif »; en français ces derniers, qui existent en Anglais et que l'on appelle le mode du progressif collectivement, n'existent pas. Autre remarque : ne croyez « en train » très vilain, c'est une erreur, au plus familier. – LPH Aug 29 '18 at 21:45

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