The Present tense

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 The present tense in French

There is just one single present tense in French, unlike in English where the present tense has two different forms, the present simple and the present progressive, The Present Tense in French, le temps présent, is used to express both momentary action and progressive action. In the rare cases where ambiguity could be possible, French needs more than just a tense change to clarify the implied meaning.
Thus the hypothetical English sentence: "I drink wine, but I'm not drinking wine" , which is understandable if unlikely, could become in French: "Je bois le vin mais je ne bois pas de vin," which is confusing to say the least.

The present tense  - le temps présent

This is used for expressing all forms of action taking place in present time.
  • ► It is the only tense for expressing present time.in French.
  • ► In order to distinguish between momentary and progressive aspects of a present action (as, in English, between I eat and I am eating) French uses other devices. See below.
  • ► Being the most common tense in everyday language, the present tense is also the tense where there are most irregularities.

The present tense of 12 key French verbs
Verb Present tense
être je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont
avoir j'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont
pouvoir je peux (or je puis), tu peux il peut, nous pouvons, vous pouvez, ils peuvent
devoir je dois, tu dois, il doit, nous devons, vous devez ils doivent
(regular verbs in -er)
je porte, tu portes, il porte, nous portons, vous portez, ils portent
(regular verbs in -ir)
je finis, tu finis, il finit, nous finissons, vous finissez, ils finissent.
(regular verbs in -re)
je vends, tu vends, il vend, nous vendons, vous vendez ils vendent
aller je vais, tu vas, il va, nous allons, vous allez, ils vont
boire je bois, tu bois, il boit, nous buvons, vous buvez, ils boivent
savoir je sais, tu sais, il sait, nous savons, vous savez, ils savent
venir je viens, tu viens, il vient, nous venons, vous venez, ils viennent.
voir je vois, tu vois, il voit, nous voyons, vous voyez, ils voient
Note: 3rd person pronouns are: Singular:  il or elle or ce ;  Plural ils or elles

He likes wine but doesn't drink champagne.
 - Il aime le vin mais ne boit pas de champagne.
The car is making a strange noise.
 La voiture fait un bruit étrange.
When I'm eating snails, I think of France
  Quand je mange des escargots, je pense à la France

Stressing the "progressive" aspect
In order to stress that an action is progressive (i.e. ongoing), not instantaneous, French uses expressions rather than a specific verb tense.

The most common way of stressing progressive aspect is to use the verb phrase "être en train de" (litterally "to be in the process of"). So to stress the progressive aspect that is conveyed through tense usage in the English expression "He's swimming against the current", a French speaker will say :
   "Il nage contre le courant", or "Il est en train de nager contre le courant".
Another alternative is to add an adverb of duration, such as "actuellement" (meaning "currently"), which will give:
   "Il nage actuellement contre le courant".

However, there is often no need to stress the progressive aspect of a statement; most often, the context will be sufficiently explicit, so the aspect of the verb does not need to be  indicated. Besides, some verbs such as vivre and savoir are by definition progressive. Even in English, we do not need to say "I am knowing".

More examples:
I live in Paris - Je vis à Paris
At present I'm living in Paris - Actuellement je vis à Paris
I'm writing a rather long paper - Je suis en train d'écrire une dissertation assez longue.
Right now I'm drinking cider - Actuellement je suis en train de boire du cidre.
It's breaking up on the rocks - Il est en train de se briser sur les rochers.
We're having dinner -  Nous sommes en train de déjeuner / Nous déjeunons en ce moment

Other uses of the present tense 

One instance in which French uses a present tense where English does not is in time clauses using "depuis" (or synonyms) in the sense of "for" or "since" in relation to present time

While English uses a present perfect:
    I've been here for two hours   / He's been driving here since breakfast
French uses "depuis" and a present tense
    Je suis ici depuis deux heures / Il conduit depuis le petit déjeuner.

(In relation to past time, structures with depuis use a variety of past tenses, depending on the context: Examples :
    Il travaillait depuis trois jours, quand il est tombé malade
    Il n'a pas vu son frère depuis 35 ans. 
More examples:
We've been here for a week - Nous sommes ici depuis une semaine.
I've lived in New York since 1980 - Je vis à New York depuis 1980.
There haven't been any mice since we bought a cat -
    Il n'y a plus de souris depuis que nous avons acheté un chat.
I haven't felt well since I ate that sausage -
   Je ne me sens pas bien depuis que j'ai mangé cette saucisse.
    (Note that it is the verb in the main clause that is in the present tense, not the verb in the subordinate clause.)

Other tenses:  Expressing the future      Past tenses      Subjunctive tenses

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