What is a Preposition?

Prepositions are short words that serve to connect elements in a sentence, indicating time, place, direction, cause, manner, etc. In French, their use is crucial for the construction of coherent and precise sentences. This lesson aims to explain the most common French prepositions, how and when to use them, with examples to facilitate understanding.



Place Prepositions:

Place prepositions specify where people or objects are located.

  • à (at, in): Used to indicate a precise location or a city.
  • chez (at the home/office of): Indicates a visit or presence in a person's living space. "Nous dînons chez des amis ce soir." (We are dining at friends' tonight.) This shows a personal action related to someone's space.
  • dans (in): Marks inclusion in a closed space or a period of time. "Les clés sont dans le sac." (The keys are in the bag.) This indicates that the object is surrounded by the boundaries of the mentioned space.
  • sur (on): Indicates a position above a surface. "Pose le livre sur la table." (Place the book on the table.) There is an idea of support but without enclosure.
  • sous (under): Means an object is in a lower position relative to another. "Le chat se cache sous le lit." (The cat is hiding under the bed.)
  • devant (in front of): Marks the anterior position relative to a reference point. "Gare ta voiture devant la maison." (Park your car in front of the house.)
  • derrière (behind): Indicates a rear position relative to something. "Le jardin se trouve derrière la maison." (The garden is behind the house.)
  • entre (between): Defines a median position between two or more points. "Il est assis entre ses parents." (He is seated between his parents.)



Time Prepositions:

They express the moment associated with the action.

  • à (at): For fixed hours. "Le train part à 18h." (The train leaves at 6 PM.)
  • en (in): Used for months, seasons, years, and the duration needed to perform an action. "Nous voyageons en juillet." (We travel in July.) / "Il a appris l'anglais en six mois." (He learned English in six months.)
  • pendant (during): Indicates the duration of an action or its unfolding over time. "Il a travaillé pendant les vacances." (He worked during the holidays.)
  • pour (for): Marks the expected duration of an action or future state. "Elle part pour trois jours." (She is leaving for three days.)
  • depuis (since): Shows the start of an action that continues in the present. "Je vis ici depuis 2010." (I have been living here since 2010.)
  • avant (before): Indicates a moment preceding another. "Il faut que je finisse avant demain." (I need to finish before tomorrow.)
  • après (after): For a moment following directly another. "Nous sortirons après le dîner." (We will go out after dinner.)



Manner Prepositions:

These prepositions explain how the action is done.

  • avec (with): Indicates accompaniment or the means used. "Il écrit avec un stylo." (He writes with a pen.)
  • sans (without): Expresses the absence of something. "Je ne peux pas vivre sans musique." (I can't live without music.)
  • par (by): Specifies the means or manner in which the action is carried out. "Je te l’envoie par email" (I am sending it to you by email)



Cause Prepositions:

They show the reason why the action occurs.

  • à cause de (because of): Indicates a negative cause. "Le match est annulé à cause de la pluie." (The match is canceled because of the rain.)
  • grâce à (thanks to): Highlights a positive cause, an advantage. "J'ai réussi grâce à mon travail acharné." (I succeeded thanks to my hard work.)



Verb Prepositions:

Use of "à" with verbs

In the context of verbs, "à" is often used to indicate:

  • An indirect object complement: This is the most common use, indicating to whom or to what the action is intended.

  • "Je pense à mes vacances." (I'm thinking about my holidays.)
  • A specification: When wanting to specify a skill or activity.

    • "Il est bon à la guitare." (He is good at playing guitar.)

Many French verbs of communication are constructed with the preposition "à". This is due to the fact that these verbs often involve an exchange of information or an interaction between people, and the preposition "à" is used to indicate the direction of this communication or interaction.

Here are some examples:

  • Parler à someone: "Je parle à mon ami." (I am talking to my friend.)
  • Dire à someone: "Il dit à sa mère qu'il sera en retard." (He tells his mother that he will be late.)
  • Répondre à someone: "Elle répond à l'email." (She replies to the email.)
  • Téléphoner à someone: "Je téléphone à mon frère chaque soir." (I call my brother every evening.)

In these examples, the preposition "à" is used to indicate the person who receives the information or with whom one communicates. It establishes the relationship between the subject who performs the action of communication and the object (the person) who receives this communication.

It is important to note that even though "à" is commonly used with verbs of communication, there are exceptions and variations depending on the verb and the context. For example, some verbs may be constructed with "de" or without a preposition depending on the case.



Use of "de" with verbs

With verbs, "de" can mark:

  • The origin or provenance: Although this is a broader usage, specific verbs like "venir de" illustrate this point well. php Copy code
    • "Je viens de Bretagne." (I come from Brittany.)

Some examples of verbs frequently constructed with "de" include: parler de, rêver de, avoir besoin de, s'occuper de.

And some verbs are constructed with other prepositions or change in meaning if followed by a specific preposition:


Verbs constructed with "en"

  • Se transformer en: "La chenille se transforme en papillon." (The caterpillar turns into a butterfly.)
  • Consister en: "Le test consiste en plusieurs étapes." (The test consists of several steps.)


Verbs constructed with "pour"

  • Partir pour: "Il part pour New York demain." (He is leaving for New York tomorrow.)
  • Voter pour: "J'ai voté pour le candidat indépendant." (I voted for the independent candidate.)


Verbs constructed with "avec"

  • Se marier avec: "Elle s'est mariée avec son meilleur ami." (She got married to her best friend.)
  • Comparer avec: "Compare ce résultat avec les attentes." (Compare this result with the expectations.)


Verbs constructed with "sur"

  • Compter sur: "Tu peux compter sur moi." (You can count on me.)


Verbs constructed with "contre"

  • Lutter contre: "Nous luttons contre la pollution." (We are fighting against pollution.)
  • Se protéger contre: "Protège-toi contre le froid." (Protect yourself against the cold.)


Verbs constructed with "par"

  • Être surpris par: "Je suis surpris par le résultat." (I am surprised by the result.)
  • Passer par: "Nous passons par le parc." (We are going through the park.)


Verbs constructed with "sans"

  • Faire sans: "Nous devons faire sans les ressources nécessaires." (We have to make do without the necessary resources.)


It is crucial to learn verbs with the preposition associated with them, as there is no single rule that applies to all cases.