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I'm trying to say "I see her coming": Is it "Je la vois venir." or "Je la vois en venant."?

Complex structure sentences contain more than one subject.

  • Since I don't think anyone told you why the "en venant" sentence doesn't work: gerunds like "en venant" are by default assumed to share a subject with the main verb while infinitives subordinate to a perception verb (like see/voir or listen to/écouter) have as their unstated subject the direct object of the main verb. Verbs of helping, hindering, asking and prohibiting work the same way, but in this case the object can also be indirect, depending on the verb: je lui apprend à cuisiner (I teach him/her to cook) – Eau qui dort Nov 8 at 13:00
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There are several possibilities including:

Je la vois venir

which has a double meaning:

  1. She is coming and I see her. (See: Anne, ma sœur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir ?)
  2. She has a hidden agenda but I'm not naive. (This is the more common meaning)

and:

Je la vois qui vient

   She is coming and I see her.

On the other hand :

Je la vois en venant

   means "while coming in, I see her."

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There is no way of saying "Je la vois venant." in any case.

You can't use in this construction the "participe présent" without an adverbial of place.

Possible construction

  • Je la vois souvent venant de chez sa voisine. (She (la) is doing the action (coming).)

If you add "en' to the "participe présent" obtaining thus a "gérondif" ("en venant"), then you can do away with the averbial if you want to; however the subject is changed: the locutor is now the person doing the action of coming (not the person for whom the pronoun "la" is used). When you omit the adverbial the person you are talking to must know beforehand where you are coming from, otherwise what you are saying makes no sense.

  • Je la vois souvent en venant( de la gare). (I (je) is doing the action (coming) because of the added "en")

There are two meanings for "I see her coming.".

  • 1/ (literal) "Je la vois venir." is not proper, not idiomatic; you'd say, rather "Je la vois arriver." or "Je la vois qui vient/arrive.". There is no way of saying "Je la vois venant.".

  • 2/ (figurative) "Je la vois venir." is correct and corresponds to the English figurative "I see her coming.", which can also be expressed as "I see what she is getting/driving at." (Harrap's dictionary). In this case also, there is no way of saying "Je la vois venant.".

Note: The second part of the question (What are the rules for complex sentence structures?) involves too much grammar for an answer to be possible and I'd avise you to edit you question and remove that part so as to keep a neat formulation; you'll have to keep to specific points when you ask questions.

  • Why insisting that much about avoiding je la vois venant while this form hasn't been suggested in the question or elsewhere? – jlliagre Nov 8 at 9:53
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@jlliagre and @Lph have already provided excellent answers. As a side remark, note that one can use Deepl for questions of this type:

https://www.deepl.com/en/translator#en/fr/I%20see%20her%20coming

I see her coming = Je la vois venir

Je la vois en venant. = I see her on the way in.

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