guide to French prepositions
by far the most common preposition in French, and a word with multiple
Its most common usages are:
a) To signify possession or attribution
- the equivalent of the English preposition "of"
or " 's
la maison de Jeanne ,
The chairman of the company
: le président de l'entreprise
owner was Monsieur Brun Le
propriétaire du chien était Monsieur Brun.
b) A preposition of direction,
equivalent to the English preposition "from"
He's coming from Paris
vient de Paris,
It's a gift from Pierre.
un cadeau de Pierre.
c) A preposition of relation, equivalent
to English " by" or "of"
It's a play by Shakespeare -
une pièce de Shakespeare
At the side of the
au bord de la route
At the top of the mountain : au
sommet de la montagne
c) As a coordinator between two verbs,
equivalent to the coordinators in English (of, to, etc)
He's talking about coming next week. Il
parle de venir la semaine prochaine.
I'm trying to do
de le faire.
2. Prepositions of position and direction
The table below
lists the most common prepositions
and corresponding adverbs.
Most of the prepositions in this table can signify either
direction or position; meaning will be distinguished by logic and
context. In this table, rare and unusual forms are omitted or
listed in brackets. This table is by no means an exhaustive guide to
French prepositions; in idiomatic usage, other prepositions may be used
for a given meaning.
/ English equivalents
as far as, until
au dessus de
on top (of), Over, above
en dessous de
out of (and
other meanings; see above)
also one preposition for which English has no
specific prepositional equivalent: chez.
can be a preposition of direction or a preposition of situation, and
corresponds to "to/at (my) place".
Prepositions of position:
I live in a flat. J'habite
dans un appartement.
I live in town: J'habite
The money is on the
est sur la table
I live at Pierre's place: J'habite
He's inside:il est
dedans (il est à l'intérieur)
Prepositions of direction:
Put all those bits into the box. Mettez
toutes ces pièces dans la boite
We're going into town. Nous
allons en ville.
They're coming to our
house this evening. Ils
viennent chez nous ce soir.
I can't put the money in. Je ne
peux pas mettre l'argent dedans.
You will see from the table above that there are
preposition in French than English; in fact, there are only nine simple
prepositions of position and direction - à,
sur, sous, dans, en, vers, entre
as against fourteen in English. There are reasons for this.
Unlike English and German, which are
Germanic languages, French is a "synthetic" Romance language (a
language that has evolved from Latin). Prepositions are far
used in synthetic languages than in analytic languages. This can be
seen clearly by looking at some English phrasal / prepositional verbs,
and how they can be translated into French.
French does not have phrasal or prepositional verbs, so the defining
prepositions (postpositions) or particles in the English expressions do
not exist in the French versions (or are an integral element of the
Come in !
Get out! Sortez
Shut up ! Taisez
I came down carefully. Je
suis descendu soigneusement.
Put on your shoes! Mettez
He's going away. Il
Take off your boots ! Enlevez
vos bottes !
Look up a word. Chercher
We'll go over that question again. Nous
allons revoir cette question
I give up ! Je
3. Prepositions of time and
The most important
(since or for) See problems
and note also: –
(i.e. French has no
time preposition corresponding to "on
3 and 4
vais à Paris
I'm going to Paris for three
2. Je vais à Paris
dans trois semaines.
I'm going to Paris in three weeks
Nous venons mercredi.
We're coming on
4. Nous allons à la pêche le dimanche.
We go fishing on
5. ls se marient le 3 mars.
March 3rd -
6. J'étais impressionné par
I was impressed by his style.
suis ici depuis le 14 juillet. *
I've been here
since July 14th -
Je suis ici depuis trois jours. *
I've been here
for three days -
9. Je vais être
à Paris pour / pendant trois jours. *
to be in Paris for three days -
10. Je vais en France pendant
l'été, et avant vous.
France during the summer, and before you.
vais à Lyon
I'm going to Lyon after
suis allé à Bordeaux par
frère mais sans
went to Bordeaux by
my brother but without
reste ici jusqu'au
14 juillet. I'm staying here until July
vais compter jusqu'à
trois, et vous allez courir jusqu'à
to count up to three, and you're going to run as far as Daddy.
* Note tense use
with depuis. See Present
mastering the use of prepositions in French
languages being what they are, it is not often possible to say that one
word in English = one word in French; and with prepositions this is
very much the case. A few prepositions require particular attention.
► While dans
is the most common equivalent of the English words in and into, there are
plenty of cases where it is not the right preposition in French. "En"
also means in,
and replaces dans
in lots of expressions, notably when there is no article, as
ville, or en
is another French preposition to be careful about, since it can either
relating to elapsed time (past time in relation to the present). It can
never be used in the sense of for relating to ongoing time or future
time. Normally the meaning of depuis
in a French sentence will be unambiguous, as in examples 7 and 8 above..
But just occasionally ambiguity is possible.
suis ici depuis dix heures could mean either I've been here for ten
I've been here since ten o'clock.
? To express terminated duration in
the past, the equivalent preposition to English for is
For an ongoing
time frame, or duration in the future,
the prepositions to use are either pendant
which in modern French are virtually interchangeable.
In example 1 above,
some speakers might detect a slight difference, pour
trois semaines implying a single three week stay, pendant
trois semaines several trips in the course of the three
weeks; but many would consider this distinction academic. If the
sentence had been Je
vais vivre à Paris.... no such distinction can
is another useful preposition to master, as it is used as a preposition
of time, a preposition of direction, and a preposition of quantity, and
thus corresponds to a range of English prepositions, notably until,
as far as, and up to or
as many as.
In spite of this multitude of meanings, confusion and ambiguity are
rare, as context is normally quite sufficient to indicate in what sense
the expression is used. See examples 13 and 14
is more of a problem for French speakers learning English, than for
English speakers learning French.
There is only one way to master the use
prepositions , and that is by becoming familiar with
in which they occur. It is confusing to learn that in French
"à vélo", "par avion" and "en
– and that there are other expressions possible too!
But it's not
really too surprising; after all, in English we say "on horseback" but
"by car". No language is perfect !
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