The French They Never Taught You 9: The Present Isn't Necessarily the Present

In French class, students learn that the present tense in French can be translated in three ways in English. For example, je vais means I go, I do go, and I am going. That is complicated in and of itself. But the present tense in French can actually be used in at least three other ways.

  • Where English uses the past tense

  • Where English uses the future

  • Where English uses the imperative

French uses the present tense in the minutes of a meeting (un procès-verbal) but English uses the past tense, and in this case, the present tense in French must be translated by the past tense in English:

La Présidente préside (presided over) la séance. Elle ouvre la séance (called the meeting to order) et donne ensuite lecture de l’ordre du jour (and then read the agenda).

French uses the present tense in the bylaws of a company (les statuts), but English uses the future tense:

Le conseil d’administration est composé de (shall be made up of) trois membres.

French increasingly uses the present tense for the imperative:

Hé ! Olivier ! Elle a oublié son sac, Emilie ! Tu la rattrapes tout de suite ! (= rattrape-la !)

Hey Oliver! Emilie forgot her purse! Go catch her right away!

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