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If I said "they hide in the garden" it would indicate that it they always hide in the garden and if I said "they are hiding in the garden" it would mean they are doing that now. The first sentence would translate into "ils cachent dans le jardin" and the second would translate to "ils sont en train de cacher dans le jardin". Why is it that so many things that are happening are written as they always happen? Another example could be "je bois la cafe" means I drink coffee but can also mean I am drinking coffee instead of "je suis en train de boire la cafe".

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  • Just a side remark. German (both German and English belong to Germanic languages) does not possess either a Simple Present Continuous.
    – Dimitris
    Nov 1 '20 at 15:33
  • see the answer here for more detail than you would like on the english/french distinction french.stackexchange.com/questions/13222/…
    – hunter
    Nov 2 '20 at 0:15
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As a GENERAL matter, French has only a single present tense, unlike English.

That means the following:

Ils se cachent dans le jardin. can be:

They are hiding in the garden [now] OR They hide in the garden [when they play games].

I drink coffee. = Je bois du café. can be both drink and am drinking.

Here's the trick: être en train de faire quelque chose is, of course, translated into English using the present continuous but the inverse is not true: The English present continuous is simply not translated into French using en train de as a general manner.

  • Ils sont en train de faire leurs devoirs. = They are doing their homework.

Forgetting translation for a moment, you have to see when être en train de might be used in French. It is used to emphasize an action occurring "right at the moment of speaking".

Q: Oú sont les enfants? Ils font leurs devoirs?
Ans: Oui, ils sont au salon, en train de faire leurs devoirs.

Now, the answer there could have been:
Ils sont au salon. Ils font leurs devoirs.

The use of en train de just emphasizes that the action is happening now and is less "harsh" than the simple present in this case. One has to develop a feeling about when to use it. It can also be used to avoid ambiguity that may arise.

Ans: Ils ont au salon mais ils ne fichent rien. Ils ne sont pas en train de faire leurs devoirs.

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Not a native speaker of either French or English.

May be I am misunderstanding your question. Note that German, unlike English (both are Germanic languages), does not possess also a Simple Present Continuous.

To emphasize what one is doing right now, in English, we use the verb “to be” and the “present participle” of the verb : I am doing (doing is the present participle of to do).

To translate the Present continuous in French we have two possibilities:

If someone says: Qu’est-ce que tu fais? (French Present Tense) we understand that it is now, so if we reply: je mange, we understand, I am eating!

If you want to emphazise, you can say: Qu’est-ce que tu es est en train de faire? Je suis en train de manger!

https://www.leaflanguages.org/french-grammar-present-continuous-etre-en-train-de-infinitive/

https://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/french-verb-conjugation/french-mistakes-beware-verb-ing-constructions/

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  • Thanks - you don't seem to have misunderstood my question. But is it always the case that someone can understand what you mean by context. Take 'Qu’est-ce que tu fais?' it could be translated to 1) What are you doing 2) What do you do [for a living]? or is the second translation not valid?
    – user716881
    Nov 1 '20 at 15:49
  • @user716881 2) would be conveyd by Comment gagnez-vous votre vie ? Comment tu gagnes ta vie ?
    – Dimitris
    Nov 1 '20 at 15:51
  • 2) is usually conveyed as "que fais-tu dans la vie ?". I am afraid that "comment gagnes-tu ta vie" is not idiomatic for a casual question. It is really more a request to justify one's revenues. In other words, it is a question that eg a tax inspector could ask, not someone you have just met and is just trying to know you better. It also implies this person has a job with a revenue, and would exclude possible answers such as "je suis étudiant : or "je suis femme au foyer".
    – Greg
    Nov 1 '20 at 16:11
  • In other words: "comment gagnez-vous votre vie ?" is a question about someone's financial situation, not about someone's job. If someone asked me this out of some very specific contexts, I could even answer: " ça ne vous regarde pas !" (That's none of your business!)
    – Greg
    Nov 1 '20 at 16:29

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