The Basics of French Prepositions - Talk in French
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The Basics of French Prepositions

 

Reading time: 4 minutes Difficulty: Intermediate

We use prepositions so much in our daily speech but we often take these things for granted.

Most of the time, it results in misuse of English prepositions or interchanging our ins and ons and ats. Therefore, a clear grasp (or a working knowledge at the very least) of English prepositions is in order before we could thoroughly learn about its French counterparts. 

We operate on the premise that before you can take on another language, you have to be familiar with your how your very own language works first.

So on that note, let’s take a quick look at what prepositions are in the English language.

  • Prepositions function as linking words that show the relationship between the other words in the sentence.
  • Prepositions help put into perspective the time and place of a certain topic.
  • These include the words at, to, from, for, with, into, between, beside, under, within, and several others.
  • Prepositions are followed by a noun, a pronoun, or an English word that ends in -ing.

Examples:

It’s from her.

He’s in trouble.

It’s made for handling food.

 

REMINDERS ON WHEN AND HOW PREPOSITIONS ARE USED

  • Prepositions are used before a noun or a pronoun.
  • Prepositions can also appear after some adjectives, linking it to the rest of the sentence.
  • In English, it is quite common for informal sentences to end in a preposition (though this is considered bad grammar), but in French, it is never allowed.
  • Prepositions do not change its form. There are no plural forms, tenses, or genders (whew!!! Thank heavens!)
  • Prepositions can have an object, but it can also be optional in some cases.
  • Some prepositions consist of more than one word.
  • In French, just like in English, the actual usage of some prepositions can be idiomatic. This means its use could often vary depending on the sentence itself.
  • There is no actual 1:1 translation of English and French prepositions. The best we can do is learn the words which are more or less their equivalents.

LIST OF PREPOSITIONS

French prepositionEnglish equivalentTips
àat, in, on, to• This is not to be confused with the il/elle/on form of avoir (il a).
• Remember: à+le becomes au; à+les becomes aux
• There are varied uses of à.
• à can be used with de to mean from...to.
• Other uses of à are: to describe how someone looks or what he/she is wearing, what a certain thing is made of, how something is done, mode of traveling, what a thing is used for, to tell a certain time, for distances or rates, and in common sayings and phrases.
• Examples: à la maison (could mean at home or to the house depending on how it is used)
à la campagne (in the country)
au lit (in bed)
de Londres à Paris (From London to France)
au premier étage (on the first floor)
à Noël (at Christmas)
à bientôt (see you soon!)
aprèsafterExamples:
après vous! (after you!)
après le déjeuner. (after lunch)
avantbeforeExamples:
avant toi (before you)
avant la maison (before the house)
avecwithExamples:
avec moi (with me)
avec mon père (with my father)
chezat/to __'s house or place; on/from the area of, from/at __'sExamples:
chez moi (at my place)
Elle est chez Frederic (She's at Frederic's house)
Elle va chez Frederic (She's going to Frederic's house)
contreagainstExample:
contre le mur (against the wall)
dansin(side), intoExamples:
dans deux mois (in two months)
ll est dans sa chambre. (he's in his room)
deof, from• de+le becomes du, de+les becomes des
• de becomes d' when it comes before a word that starts with a vowel, h, or the word y.
• Used with à to mean from... to.
• Used to tell who or what something belongs to.
• Tells us what something is made of.
• Tells us what a thing is used for.
• Used in superlatives
• Used in phrases that refer to quantities.

Examples:
de Paris (from Paris)
un ami de la famille (friend of the family)
un tasse de café (a cup of coffee)
depuissince, from, for• Can be used to talk about an action that started in the past and is still going on (present tense is used for this)
Examples:
je travaille depuis deux jours (I've been working for two days)
depuis 1922 (since 1922)
derrièrebehindExample: derrière la porte (behind the door)
devantin front of, outside (the front of)Example: Elle est assis devant moi. (she's sitting in front of me)
enin• en is never followed by articles like le, du, des.
• Usually being used with feminine countries and some figurative expressions.
• Can also talk about years and months and seasons.

Examples:
Nous habitons en France. (we live in France)
en 1983 (in 1983)
en janvier (in January)
en hiver (in winter)
en train (in train)
entrebetween, among• Entre...et means between..and in English.

Example:
Le bureau est fermé entre 13 et 14 heures. (The office is closed between 1 and 2 pm)
enverstowards• Envers is used to mean"towards" as in an action to a person. (Example: She was hostile towards him.)
• When referring to a physical motion such as going towards something, vers is used.
environabout, approximatelyExample: environ 20 personnes. (about 20 persons)
parby, through, per, withExamples:
deux par deux (two by two)
par email (by email)
pendantDuring, forExamples:
pendant l'été (during the summer)
pendant plusieurs mois (for several months)
pourFor, in order toExamples:
pour homme (for him)
pour Paris (for Paris)
sanswithoutExample:
sans sucre (without sugar)
saufexceptExample:
Tout le monde vient sauf lui. (everyone's coming except him.)
selonaccording to, depending on
sousunder(neath)Example: sous terre (underground)
suronExamples:
sur la table (on the table)
sur la politique (on politics)
verstowardsAlso applicable for use with dates to mean "in around...", "circa..."

OTHER PREPOSITIONS

Some prepositions contain more than a single word. These are the following:

au bord deat the edge of at the side of
au bout deafter
à cause debecause of
au-dessous debelow
au-dessus deabove
au fond deat the bottom of
au milieu dein the middle of

Prepositions can be quite a headache to learn, whether in English or French. In fact, even advanced learners often experience confusion when it comes to the different prepositions and the out-of-the-box uses for some.

To thoroughly familiarize yourself with the proper uses of the different prepositions, we suggest that you immerse yourself with the French language through reading and listening. This way, the prepositions will come to you easier and you’ll be able to recall them faster.

If you need clarifications about this topic, do not hesitate to contact us in the comment section.

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About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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  • Brouck says:

    Thank you! Have been searching for such a list as this.

  • […] Learn the basics of French Prepositions.  […]

  • Siddhi Shah says:

    Merci beaucoup!

  • earlina says:

    tres utile

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