How to Use the French Preposition 'à'

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.

à + le au (au magasin)

à + les = aux (aux maisons)

But à does not contract with la or l'.

à + la à la (à 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


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.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "How to Use the French Preposition 'à'." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). How to Use the French Preposition 'à'. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "How to Use the French Preposition 'à'." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).