A Complete Guide to French Prepositions

Learn the ins and outs of French prepositions with our comprehensive guide.

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Prepositions are small words that link parts of a sentence together. They indicate the relationships between two or more sets of words. In French, prepositions are usually used in front of nouns and pronouns to indicate direction, location, time, manner, and relationships.

French prepositions are an essential part of the language, and they allow you to link words and phrases. Are you ready to add context to your sentences and make your communication more precise? C’est parti – or – let’s go!

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French Prepositions

Prepositions are tricky for French language learners because they don't always translate directly from English. They also have different uses in different contexts. Here's a deeper look into some commonly used French prepositions:

À: This is a versatile preposition which can mean "at", "to", or "in", depending on the context. It is used to express location, manner, time, goal, possession (something belonging to someone), and purpose.

  • Location: Je suis à la maison. (I am at home.)
  • Time: Je travaille à huit heures. (I work at eight o'clock.)
  • Mode of transport (for foot or bicycle): Il marche à pied. (He walks on foot.)
  • Possession: Ce livre est à moi. (This book belongs to me.)

De: It is another versatile preposition and can mean "of", "from", or "by".

  • Origin: Je viens de Paris. (I come from Paris.)
  • Possession: C’est le livre de Paul. (It’s Paul's book.)
  • Quantity: Je dois acheter un kilo de sucre. (I need to buy a kilo of sugar.)

En: It can be used to indicate the mode of transport, material, duration, and to specify a language or a method.

  • Mode of transport (except foot or bicycle): Je vais au travail en bus. (I go to work by bus.)
  • Material: J’ai une table en bois. (I’ve got a wooden table.)
  • Dates: Je suis né en 1990. (I was born in 1990.)

Pour: This one can mean "for", "in order to", "to", and a duration of time (in the future). It is often used to indicate a purpose, goal, or direction.

  • Goal: Ils courent pour gagner. (They run to win.)
  • Direction: Je pars pour Paris. (I'm leaving for Paris.)
  • Duration of time: Nous partons pour deux mois. (We’re leaving for 2 months.)

Avec: This preposition means "with" and it's used to show accompaniment or means.

  • Accompaniment: Je vais au cinéma avec mes amis. (I go to the cinema with my friends.)
  • Means: Je l'ai coupé avec un couteau. (I cut it with a knife.)

These are just some examples of how prepositions are used. But many other prepositions, each with their own specific uses, can be used as well.

Prepositions of Place

Prepositions of place are used to locate something in space or time. They help describe where something or someone is located or going to be. Below are some common prepositions of place:

Dans: It means "in", or "into"

  • Il est dans son jardin. (He’s in his garden.)
  • Je mets les clés dans mon sac. (I put the keys into my bag.)

Sur: This preposition means "on", "onto", or "on top of"

  • Le chat est sur le toit. (The cat is on the roof.)
  • Elle vit sur son bateau. (She lives on her boat.)

Sous: It means "under" or "below"

  • Le chien est sous la table. (The dog is under the table.)

Devant: This translates to "in front of"

  • Il y a un arbre devant la maison. (There is a tree in front of the house.)

Derrière: It means "behind".

  • Le jardin est derrière la maison. (The garden is behind the house.)

À côté de: This expression means "next to" or "beside"

  • La boulangerie est à côté de la poste. (The bakery is next to the post office.)

Entre: This preposition translates to "between"

  • Ma maison est entre le supermarché et l'école. (My house is between the supermarket and the school.)

Près de: This one means "near"

  • Le parc est près de ma maison. (The park is near my house.)

Loin de: This preposition means "far from"

  • La mer est loin de ma maison. (The sea is far from my house.)

Au-dessus de: It translates to "above"

  • Le tableau est au-dessus du canapé. (The painting is above the sofa.)

En-dessous de: It signifies "below"

  • La cuisine est en-dessous de ma chambre. (The kitchen is below my bedroom.)

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List of all French prepositions

You thought you'd seen everything about those little words? Here is a more comprehensive list of French prepositions:

French prepositions

French Preposition English Translation
à at, in, to
après after
avant before
avec with
chez at (someone’s place)
contre against
dans in
de of, by, from
depuis for, since
derrière behind
devant in front of
en in, on
entre between
hors outside/out/exclusive of
jusque until
malgré despite
par by
parmi among
pendant during
pour for
sans without
sauf except
sous under
sur on
vers towards

Wrapping up on French prepositions

Remember that these English translations above give you a general sense of each preposition's meaning. Their actual usage in French might be a bit more complicated as they don’t always match. By reading and listening to French, you should get soon a better sense of these prepositions and their usage though

With prepositions of place like dans, sur, sous, and chez, you can describe a wide variety of physical and abstract locations. For instance, instead of saying je suis là ("I’m there”), you can bring further information with je suis chez moi (“I’m at home”) or je suis dans la cuisine (“I’m in the kitchen”) ". It’s a full new world of nuances opening!

In time and with practice, you can use many of these French prepositions to enhance and clarify the meaning of your sentences. As it would be too easy, though, keep in mind that their usage may not always align perfectly with their English counterparts.

Finally, understanding French prepositions takes regular practice, and learning from context is often the best approach. As you expose yourself more to the language through reading, listening, and speaking, it will start to become second nature. Keep practicing and don't be discouraged by any mistakes!

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