You have no doubt already noticed the omnipresence of prepositions in French. They are always used to communicate information related to time, space, manner, matter, purpose, means, or doers … The list is huge and varied. This recap and quiz will help you take the right direction with the prepositions! 

These short and invariable little words are difficult to translate from one language to another. Mastering them takes time and commitment! Not to mention the contractions that occur when they are followed by a definite article [à+le -> au; de +le -> du].

Maurice Grevisse, a French-speaking Belgian grammarian, defines preposition in these grammatical terms: “The preposition is an invariable syntactic peg – to, against, from, reverse, etc. – which is a syntactic peg. – …which introduces an additional word, thus subordinating it to the completed word.”

 e.g. I have a job interview in the Defense district in an hour.

The image of the “peg” is very powerful. A preposition is actually a tool word that allows you to put words together! It connects words and groups of words. For this reason, the syntactic structures that use it are called “indirect”.

Place prepositions in French

Let’s start by refreshing your knowledge… The prepositions of place – “à, dans, de, sous, sur, vers etc” – are the ones you use to tell where you are going, where you come from, where you are, or to explain where an object is located, where an event is taking place, and so on.

Among place prepositions, there are simple prepositions (à, dans, chez etc.) and prepositional phrases (d’après, près de, auprès de etc.). This article is the first in a series on prepositions. But let’s focus first on the most common simple prepositions.

We use “à”:

  • with buildings :
    ex : à l’école, au cinéma, à la mairie
  • with cities :
    ex: à Paris, à New York, à Londres, à Sao Paulo
  • with male gender country’s name :
    ex : au Pérou, aux Etats-Unis

We use “chez”:

  • with people :
    ex : chez Pierre, chez Mathilde
  • with shopkeepers :
    ex: chez le boulanger, chez le coiffeur
  • with some pronouns:
    ex : chez moi, chez soi, chez lui, chez elle

We use “contre” :

  • with people:
    ex : contre son adversaire
  • with objects:
    ex: contre le mur

We use “dans”:

  • with buildings, streets and rooms:
    ex : dans l’immeuble, dans la rue
  • with cities:
    ex: dans la ville
  • with transportation:
    ex : dans le bus, dans le train

We use “de”:

  • for origins:
    ex : Je viens des Etats-Unis; Je reviens du Japon; Elle rentre du travail

We use “derrière”:

  • with buildings and streets:
    ex: La poste est derrière cette rue
  • with objects and people:
    ex : tes lunettes sont derrière ton sac; Il est juste derrière toi !

We use “en”:

  • with female gender country’s name :
    ex: en France, en Suisse
  • with female gender region’s name:
    ex : en Bourgogne, en Charentes

We use “par:

  • meaning “au travers/across” :
    ex: Ils regardent par la fenêtre

Finally, here are 4 prepositions that are also widely used: “près de”, “sous”, “sur” et “vers”.  “sous” and “sur” are the most difficult to pronounce and distinguish (if you’re English, you probably know what I mean!). One thing at a time.!

Alternate learning how to use it and working on pronunciation. Seek the advice of French people or of an expert to check your progress!

We use “près de” :

  • with objects :
    ex: Le téléphone est près du bureau; La poste est près de la mairie
  • with people:
    ex : Elle s’est assise près d’eux.

We use “sous” :

  • with people, animals and objects :
    ex: Le chien s’est caché sous le canapé

We use “sur” :

  • with objects :
    ex: Le livre est sur la table
  • with people:
    ex: L’échelle est tombée sur lui (sens propre); Mon patron est toujours sur moi (sens figuré)

We use “vers” :

  • to show a direction:
    ex: L’hiver, les oies migrent vers le sud
  • to express proximity:
    ex: Le cinéma est vers le centre commercial

I intentionally left the examples in French without translating them in English. It is actually more efficient for you to focus on the logic (or uses!) of your French target language, and not on your native language.

Feel free to send me a message to ask me your questions. I’ll be thrilled to read you! pauline@speakupfrench.com

Now test your skills with this quiz! Good luck!

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