How and When to Use the Common French Preposition 'Sur' ('On')

Use 'sur' for location, direction, time, ratios, topics, and some verbs

The French preposition sur, one of the most common in the French language, usually means "on," but it has a few other meanings as well depending on what it's used with. Here they are:

Location

  • un livre sur la table > a book on the table
  • sur ma route > on my way
  • sur la photo > in the photograph
  • sur le stade / le marché > at the stadium / market
  • sur la chaussée, le boulevard, l'avenue > in the road, boulevard, avenue
  • Il neige sur tout le Canada. > It's snowing all over Canada.

Direction

  • tourner sur la gauche > to turn to the left
  • revenir sur Paris > to return to Paris

Approximate time

  • arriver sur les six heures > to arrive around 6 o'clock
  • Elle va sur ses 50 ans. > She's going on 50 (years old).
  • sur une période d'un an > over a period / the course of a year

Proportion / Ratio

  • trois fois sur quatre > three times out of four
  • un enfant sur cinq > one child in five
  • une semaine sur deux > every other week

Subject / Topic

  • un article sur les roses > an article on roses
  • une causerie sur l'égalité > a talk on / about equality

After Some Verbs Followed by an Indirect Object

Sur is also required after certain French verbs and phrases that are followed by an indirect object. Note that there is sometimes no equivalent preposition in English but the French usage is idiomatic. Such verbs and phrase include:

  •    acheter quelque chose sur le marché > to buy something at the market
  •    appuyer sur (le bouton) > to press (the button)
  •    appuyer sur (le mur) > to lean (on the wall)
  •    arriver sur (midi) > to arrive at around (noon)
  •    compter sur > to count on
  •    concentrer sur > to concentrate on
  •    copier sur quelqu'un > to copy from someone
  •    croire quelqu'un sur parole > to take someone's word, to take someone at his word
  •    diriger son attention sur > to direction one's attention to
  •    donner sur > to overlook, open onto
  •    écrire sur > to write about
  •    s'endormir sur (un livre, son travail) > to fall asleep (over a book, at work)
  •    s'étendre sur > to spread out over
  •    fermer la porte sur (vous, lui) > to close the door behind (you, him)
  •    interroger quelqu'un sur quelque chose > to question someone about something
  •    se jeter sur quelqu'un > to throw oneself upon someone
  •    loucher sur > to ogle
  •    prendre modèle sur quelqu'un > to model oneself on someone
  •    questionner quelqu'un sur quelque chose > to question someone about something
  •    réfléchir sur > to think about, reflect upon
  •    régner sur to reign over
  •    rejeter une faute sur quelqu'un > to place the blame on someone
  •    rester sur la défensive > to stay on the defensive
  •    rester sur ses gardes > to keep one's guard up
  •    revenir sur (un sujet) > to go back over (a topic)
  •    sauter sur une occasion > to jump at an opportunity
  •    tirer sur > to shoot at
  •    tourner sur (l'église, la droite) > to turn (toward the church, right)
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Lawless, Laura K. "How and When to Use the Common French Preposition 'Sur' ('On')." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/sur-french-preposition-1368921. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, August 9). How and When to Use the Common French Preposition 'Sur' ('On'). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sur-french-preposition-1368921 Lawless, Laura K. "How and When to Use the Common French Preposition 'Sur' ('On')." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sur-french-preposition-1368921 (accessed January 24, 2018).