General Notes on the French Prepositions

Prepositions are first and foremost words used to indicate position and placement: they describe when one thing is beneath another, or on top of it, or next to it, etc. In addition, they describe relations between things, as well as movement to and from places.

Position and motion

The common prepositions of position and motion are as follows:
  • à  to
  • à côté de  next to
  • au-dessous  beneath, below
  • au-dessus  above
  • autour de  around
  • de  from
  • derrière  behind
  • devant  in front of
  • en face de  in front of
  • loin de  far from
  • sous  under
  • sur  on
  • vers  toward

Prepositions precede the nouns upon which they act. In French, prepositions of position and motion are used in much the same way they are used in English:

Prepositions of relation

Many prepositions (pour, à, avec, parmi, grâce à, etc.) indicate relations between things or people, often indicating intent or causality:

Prepositions of place

The use of prepositions with geographical entities is quite precise, and usually adheres to the following patterns:

A. Before names of cities, à or de is used to indicate movement toward or away. The definite article is not used, unless it is a part of the name of the city:

Le Havre: Demain, nous allons au Havre. Tomorrow we're going to Le Havre.
B. Before feminine country or state names, en indicates movement toward or within, de movement from. In both cases the definite article is omitted: C. Before masculine country or state names, au (or à l', or aux) is used to indicate movement toward or within, du (or de le, or des) movement from. (For masculine states, dans le is also used to indicate movement toward or within.) The verbs visiter to visit and quitter to quit, leave are generally not followed by prepositions:

Prepositions with verbs

1. When one verb is followed immediately by another in the infinitive, the preposition à or de may intervene, or there may be no preposition at all:

These prepositions follow no particular logic and bear no meaning; their use must simply be memorized. Common forms are as follows:
aimer to love
aimer mieux to prefer
aller to go
croire to believe
désirer to desire
devoir to have to, must
faire to do / make
espérer to hope
laisser to allow, let.
aider à to help
s'amuser à to amuse oneself
apprendre à to learn
arriver à to arrive
continuer à to continue
commencer à to begin, commence
s'habituer à to become accustomed
hésiter à to hesitate
inviter à to invite
se mettre à to begin
parvenir à to reach
réussir à to succeed.
avoir peur de to be affraid
commencer de to begin, commence
continuer de to continue
décider de to decide
se dépêcher de to hurry up
essayer de to attempt, try
être content de to be content,
être heureux de to be happy,
être satisfait de to be satisfied,
être triste de to be sad,
finir de to end, finish, termiinate
oublier de to forget
refuser de to refuse
regretter de to regret.

2. Certain verbs are followed by set prepositions when introducing noun phrases:

Some common examples are:
assister à  to attend,
jouer à (un jeu)  to play,
jouer de (piano)  to play,
manquer à  to miss someone,
manquer de  to lack something,
obéir à  to obey,
plaire à  to please,
parler à  to speak to,
parler de  to speak about,
répondre à  to answer,
résister à  to resist,
ressembler à  to resemble,
s'approcher de  to approach,
se fier à  to rely on,
se marier avec  to marry,
se méfier de  to mistrust,
se moquer de  to make fun of,
se souvenir de  to remember.

3. Some verbs which take prepositions in English do not take them in French:

4. Some verbs take a double preposition, à and de:
demander à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose  to ask someone to do something,
permettre à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose to allow someone to do something,
ordonner à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose to order someone to do something,
commander à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose to order someone to do something,
suggérer à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose to suggest to someone to do something,
dire à quelqu'un de faire quelque chose to tell someone to do something.

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