When to Use 'À' vs. 'De' in French

Learn How to Use These Common French Prepositions

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Prepositions are words that connect two parts of a sentence. In French, they usually go in front of nouns or pronouns to show a relationship between that noun/pronoun and another word that precedes it.

As you learn French, you will find yourself using the prepositions à and de often. Depending on their usage, they can mean entirely different things or the same thing. Knowing when to use which preposition is a common source of confusion for many French students, but this lesson will teach you the difference.

By the end of it, you should be comfortable with how verbs interact with à and de.

À vs. De: French Prepositions

The French prepositions à and de cause constant problems for French students. Generally speaking, à means "to," "at," or "in," while de means "of" or "from." Both prepositions have numerous uses and to understand each better, it is best to compare them.

ÀDe
Location or destinationStarting point or origin
Je vais à RomeI'm going to Romepartir de Niceto leave from (out of) Nice
Je suis à la banque I'm at the bankJe suis de BruxellesI'm from Brussels
 
Distance in time or space
Note that à is used in front of the distance, while de indicates the starting point/origin.
Il habite à 10 mètres...He lives 10 meters......d'ici...from here
C'est à 5 minutes...It's 5 minutes away......de moi...from me
 
PossessionPossession / belonging (Learn more)
un ami à moia friend of minele livre de PaulPaul's book
Ce livre est à JeanThis is Jean's bookle café de l'universitéthe university café
  
Purpose or useContents / description
une tasse à théteacup (cup for tea)une tasse de thécup of tea
une boîte à allumettesmatchbox (box for matches)une boîte d'allumettesbox (full) of matches
un sac à dosbackpack (pack for the back)un roman d'amourlove story (story about love)
 
Mannerstyle, or characteristicDefining feature
fait à la mainmade by handle marché de groswholesale market
Il habite à la françaiseHe lives in the French styleune salle de classeclassroom
un enfant aux yeux bleusblue-eyed childun livre d'histoirehistory book
  
Defining ingredient - Food Indispensable ingredient - Food 
Use à when the food is made with something that can be taken away without destroying it—as a general rule, you can translate it as "with." In the following examples, if you take out the ham or onion, you still have a sandwich or soup.Use de when the food is made primarily of something—generally speaking, you can translate it to "of" or "from." In the following examples, if you take away the blackcurrants or tomatoes, you're left with not much at all.
un sandwich au jambonham sandwichla crème de cassisblackcurrant liqueur
la soupe à l'oignononion soupla soupe de tomatestomato soup
une tarte aux pommesapple piele jus d'orangeorange juice
  
Impersonal expressions: Real subjectImpersonal expressions: Dummy subject
C'est bon à savoir.That's good to know.Il est bon d'étudier.It's good to study. (Studying is good)
C'est facile à faire.That's easy to do.Il est facile de le trouver.It's easy to find it. (Finding it is easy)

Additional Uses of À

The use of à is not limited to the examples above. Here are two more instances in which you will want to use this preposition.

Measurement
acheter au kiloto buy by the kilogram
payer à la semaineto pay by the week
 
Point in time
Nous arrivons à 5h00We arrive at 5:00
Il est mort à 92 ansHe died at the age of 92

Additional Uses of De

The preposition de also has more uses than listed above. You will use it often when speaking of cause and the manner of doing something.

Cause
mourir de faimto die of/from hunger
fatigué du voyagetired from the trip
 
Means/manner of doing something
écrire de la main gaucheto write with the left hand
répéter de mémoireto recite from memory

Using À and De With Verbs

It is essential to understand the difference between the French prepositions à and de because the meaning of some verbs depends on whether you use à or de. For other verbs, both prepositions may be used in the same sentence.

Verbs With Different Meanings When À or DIs Used

In French, a single verb can have two meanings depending on the preposition. If you choose the wrong one, you might say "I neglected Jane" rather than "I miss Jane." Doing so can lead to misunderstandings and you should make sure to know the difference. The following table shows specifics verbs that change meanings through prepositions.

In the following examples, French abbreviations for "someone" and "something" are used. When using these verbs, simply replace the abbreviation with the nouns that you're speaking of.

  • qqun / s.o. - quelqu'un / someone
  • qqch / s.t. - quelque chose / something

 

décider àto persuade, convince
décider deto decide to
  
demander àto ask (for permission)
demander deto ask (s.o. to do s.t.*)
  
jouer àto play a game or sport
jouer deto play an instrument
  
manquer àto miss someone
manquer deto neglect (to do s.t.)
(more about manquer)
  
parler àto talk to
parler deto talk about
  
penser àto think about (imagine)
penser deto think about (opinion)
(more about penser)
  
profiter àto benefit
profiter deto make the most of
  
venir àto happen to
venir deto have just (done s.t.)
(more about venir)

Verbs That Use Both À and Din the Same Sentence

The prepositions à and de can be used in a single sentence, often when you want someone to do something

conseiller à qqun de faire qqchadvise s.o. to do s.t.
défendre à qqun de faire qqchforbid s.o. to do s.t.
demander à qqun de faire qqchask s.o. to do s.t.
dire à qqun de faire qqchtell s.o. to do s.t.
interdire à qqun de faire qqchforbid s.o. to do s.t.
ordonner à qqun de faire qqchorder s.o. to do s.t.
permettre à qqun de faire qqchallow s.o. to do s.t.
promettre à qqun de faire qqchpromise s.o. to do s.t.
téléphoner à qqun de faire qqchcall s.o. to do s.t.

Expressions With À and D

Yet another use for à and de is in common expressions. Again, they often have similar meanings, yet they are notably different. Remember the primary difference between the prepositions:

  • à means "to," "at," or ​"in"
  • de means "of" or "from"
à côténearby, next tode côtésideways
à côté denext to, besidedu côté defrom (direction)
à la hauteurat the levelde hauteur[5 feet] tall
il est à Parishe's in Parisil est de Parishe's from Paris
prêt* à + inf. prepared toprês* de + inf.near, on the verge of
tasse à théteacup (cup for tea)tasse de thécup of tea

* prêt and prês are two different words, but because they are homophones, it makes sense to include them here for comparison.

Verbs With À or D

There are a couple of French verbs that can take à or de with little or no difference in meaning:

commencer à / deto start
continuer à / deto continue