Prepositions: Small and Mighty Words That Drive French Sentences

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Prepositions are words that link two related parts of a sentence. In French, they are usually placed in front of nouns or pronouns to indicate a relationship between that noun/pronoun and a verb, adjective, or noun that precedes it, as in:

  • I'm talking to Jean. > Je parle à Jean.
  • She is from Paris. > Elle est de Paris.
  • The book is for you. > Le livre est pour toi.

These small but mighty words not only show relationships between words, but they also refine the meanings of places and time as with pendant and durant, which both translate as "during" in English.

Basic Rules

Propositions can follow adjectives and link them to the remainder of a sentence, but they can never end a sentence (as they can in English). Prepositions in Fench can be difficult to translate into English and idiomatic, and they can exist as a prepositional phrase such as au-dessus de (above), au-dessous de (below), and au milieu de (in the middle of).

Some prepositions are also used after certain verbs in French to complete their meaning such as croire en (to believe in), parler à (to talk to), and parler de (to talk about). Also, prepositional phrases can be replaced by the adverbial pronouns y and en.

Many French verbs require particular prepositions in order for their meaning to be complete. Some of the verbs are followed by prepositions à or de and others by no preposition at all. There is no apparent grammatical rule as to which verbs require a preposition and which do not, so it is a good idea to memorize the ones that do have a preposition attached.

To further complicate matters, for most geographical names, the gender affects which prepositions to use, though for islands (whether states, provinces, countries or cities) the gender does not affect which preposition you must use.

Prepositions in French

Following is a comprehensive list of the most common French prepositions and their English equivalents, with links to detailed explanations and examples.

à     to, at, in
à côté de next to, beside
après after
au sujet de about, on the subject of
avant before
avec with
chez at the home/office of, among
contre against
dans in
d'après according to
de from, of, about
depuis since, for
derrière in back of, behind
devant in front of
durant during, while
en in, on, to
en dehors de outside of
en face de facing, across from
entre between
envers toward
environ approximately
hors de outside of
jusque until, up to, even
loin de far from
malgré despite
par by, through
parmi among
pendant during
pour for
près de near
quant à as for, regarding
sans without
selon according to
sous under
suivant according to
sur on
vers toward