The Story of 'à,' a French Preposition

10 Easy Ways to Use This Tiny Mutifacted, Multifunctional Dynamo

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Despite its diminutive size, à is a hugely important French preposition and one of the most important words in the French language. Its meanings and uses in French are many and varied, but at its most basic, à generally means 'to,' 'at' or 'in.' Compare à to de, meaning 'of' or 'from,' with which it's often confused.

'À' Contractions

When à is followed by the definite articles le and lesà contracts with them
as a single word.

   For example 
 à + le=auau magasin 
 à + les=auxaux maisons 
But à does not contract with la or l'
 à + la=à laà la banque 
 à + l'=à l'à l'hôpital 
In addition, à is not contracted with le and les when they are direct objects.

Common Uses of 'À'

1. Location or destination

J'habite à Paris. > I live in Paris.

Je vais à Rome. > I'm going to Rome.

Je suis à la banque. > I'm at the bank.

2. Distance in time or space

J'habite à 10 mètres de lui. > I live 10 meters from him.

Il est à 5 minutes de moi. > He is 5 minutes from me.

3. Point in time

Nous arrivons à 5h00. > We arrive at 5:00.

Il est mort à 92 ans. > He died at the age of 92.

4. Manner, style, or characteristic

Il habite à la française. > He lives in the French style.

un enfant aux yeux bleus > blue-eyed child; child with blue eyes

fait à la main > made by hand

aller à pied > to go on / by foot

5. Possession

un ami à moi > a friend of mine

Ce livre est à Jean > This is Jean's book

6. Measurement

acheter au kilo > to buy by the kilogram

payer à la semaine > to pay by the week

7. Purpose or use

une tasse à thé > teacup; cup for tea

un sac à dos > backpack; pack for the back

8. In the passive infinitive

À louer > for rent

Je n'ai rien à lire. > I have nothing to read.                        

9. With Certain Verbs, Phrases Followed by an Infinitive

The French preposition à is required after certain verbs and phrases when they are followed by an infinitive. The English translation may take an infinitive (to learn how to do something) or a gerund (to stop eating).

  •    aider à > to help to
  •    s'amuser à > to amuse oneself ___-ing
  •    apprendre à > to learn how to
  •    s'apprêter à > to get ready to
  •    arriver à > to manage / succeed in ___-ing
  •    s'attendre à > to expect to
  •    s'autoriser à > to authorize / allow to
  •    avoir à > to have to / be obliged to
  •    chercher à > to attempt to
  •    commencer à > to begin to / ___-ing
  •    consentir à > to consent to
  •    continuer à > to continue to / ___-ing
  •    décider (quelqu'un) à > to persuade (someone) to
  •    se décider à > to make up one's mind to
  •    encourager à > to encourage to
  •    s'engager à > to get around to
  •    enseigner à > to teach to
  •    s'habituer à > to get used to
  •    hésiter à > to hesitate to
  •    s'intéresser à > to be interested in
  •    inviter (quelqu'un) à > to invite (someone) to
  •    se mettre à > to start, set about ___-ing
  •    obliger à > to oblige to
  •    parvenir à > to succeed in ___-ing
  •    passer du temps à  > to spend time ___-ing
  •    perdre du temps à > to waste time ___-ing
  •    persister à > to persist in ___-ing
  •    se plaire à > to take pleasure in ___-ing
  •    pousser (quelqu'un) à > to urge/push (someone) to
  •    se préparer à > to prepare oneself to
  •    recommencer à > to begin ___-ing again
  •    réfléchir à > to consider ___-ing
  •    renoncer à > to give up ___-ing
  •    résister à > to resist ___-ing
  •    réussir à > to succeed in ___-ing
  •    rêver à > to dream of ___-ing
  •    servir à > to serve to
  •    songer à > to dream of ___-ing
  •    tarder à > to delay / be late in ___-ing
  •    tenir à > to hold (someone) to / insist on ___-ing
  •    venir à > to happen to

10. With Verbs That Need an Indirect Object 

The French preposition à is required after many French verbs and phrases that need an indirect object, but there is often no equivalent preposition in English.    

  •    acheter à > to buy from
  •    arracher à  > to grab, tear away from
  •    assister à (la réunion) > to attend (the meeting)
  •    conseiller à > to advise
  •    convenir à (quelqu'un) / la situation > to please; to be suitable for someone / the situation
  •    croire à > to believe something
  •    demander (quelque chose) à (quelqu'un) > to ask someone (something)
  •    défendre à > to forbid
  •    demander à (quelqu'un) > to ask (someone) to
  •    déplaire à > to displease; to be displeasing to
  •    désobéir à > to disobey
  •    dire à > to say; to tell
  •    donner un stylo à (quelqu'un) > to give (someone) a pen
  •    emprunter un livre à (quelqu'un) > to borrow a book from (someone)
  •    envoyer (qqch) à (quelqu'un) > to send (something) to (someone)
  •    être à > to belong to
  •    faire attention à > to pay attention to
  •    se fier à (quelqu'un) > to trust (someone)
  •    goûter à (quelque chose) > to taste (something)
  •    s'habituer à > to get used to
  •    interdire (quelque chose) à quelqu'un > to forbid someone (something)
  •    s'intéresser à > to be interested in
  •    jouer à > to play (a game or sport)
  •    manquer à > to miss someone
  •    mêler à > to mingle with; to join in
  •    nuire à > to harm
  •    obéir à > to obey
  •    s'opposer à > to oppose
  •    ordonner à > to order
  •    pardonner à > to pardon; to forgive
  •    parler à > to talk to
  •    penser à > to think of / about
  •    permettre à > to permit
  •    plaire à > to please; to be pleasing to
  •    profiter à > to benefit; to be profitable to
  •    promettre à > to promise
  •    réfléchir à > to consider; to reflect upon
  •    répondre à > to answer
  •    résister à > to resist
  •    ressembler à > to resemble
  •    réussir à l'examen > to pass the test
  •    serrer la main à (quelqu'un) > to shake hands with someone
  •    servir à > to be used for / as
  •    songer à > to dream; to think of
  •    succéder à > to succeed; to follow
  •    survivre à > to survive
  •    téléphoner à > to call
  •    voler (quelque chose) à quelqu'un > to steal (something) from someone

Notes

Remember that à plus an inanimate noun can be replaced by the adverbial pronoun y. For example, je m'y suis habitué > I got used to it.

À plus a person can usually be replaced by an indirect object pronoun that is placed in front of the verb (e.g., Il me parle). However, a few verbs and expressions do not allow a preceding indirect object pronoun. Instead, they require that you keep the preposition after the verb and follow it with a stressed pronoun (e.g., Je pense à toi).

Additional Resources

Passive infinitive: a grammatical structure in which something other than a verb needs to be followed by à + infinitive.