young girl listening to music while on the train

French Prepositions: The Ultimate Guide (with Audio and Examples)

In English, you get on the train. In French, you get in the train.

In English, you’re in bed. In French, you’re at your bed.

Prepositions in French can be really tricky because they don’t always work like in English (or other languages)–which means you have to learn them from scratch.

Read on to learn about important French prepositions for time, place and movement.


What are Prepositions? 

Just from the word “preposition,” you can already guess that it’s a word that comes before something; it’s pre-posed. 

In reality, a preposition is a word that gives you an indication of one of three things: place, time or movement.

Let’s look at each of these: 

French Prepositions of Place

Prepositions of place are the easiest to tackle because they’re the easiest to imagine.

Prepositions of place allow you to physically situate a person, place or thing in space. The prepositions of place in French are:

Most of these closely resemble their counterparts in English in terms of usage. There are a few exceptions, though:

1. dans 

Dans is used in French for any form of transportation, including trains, buses, trams and trolleys.

For example, in English, you’ll say, “I’m on the bus.” But in French, you’ll say, Je suis dans le bus. 

2. à

As a preposition of place, à means “at.” You can use the compound à + [article] forms of this preposition for places (like the supermarket, school or church):

Je suis au supermarché.
(I’m at the supermarket.)

Je suis à l’église.
(I’m at church.)

Je suis au parc.
(I’m at the park.)

Je suis à l’école.
(I’m at school.)

Je suis à la banque.
(I’m at the bank.)

Je suis allé aux marchés de Noël.
(I went to the Christmas markets.)

The French have other extra uses for à, though. These have to do with times where, in English, we would say “in” but not actually mean we are inside of something: For example, being “in bed.”

À is also used for any city name, while au is used for any masculine country name and en  for any feminine country name:

Je suis à Paris.
(I’m in Paris.)

Je suis en France.
(I’m in France.)

Je suis au Brésil.
(I’m in Brazil.)

3. chez 

Chez just plain doesn’t exist in English, but it’s a very useful preposition.

Chez can often be translated as “at ___’s house.” For example, if you’re going to Marie’s house, you’d say, Je vais chez Marie.

The only issue with this translation is that chez doesn’t always mean someone’s house; it can also mean someone’s work. If you are going to the doctor’s office, you don’t go au bureau du médecin, but rather chez le médecin

Here are some more examples:

Je vais chez le coiffeur.
(I’m going to the hairdresser’s.) 

Je vais chez le dentiste.
(I’m going to the dentist’s.)

Je reviens de chez Pierre.
(I just got back from Pierre’s house.)

Elle habite chez ses parents.
(She lives at her parents’ house.)

It’s no wonder that you often find restaurants with chez in the title; if a restaurant is called chez Pierre , it means “Pierre’s place”!

French Prepositions of Time

French prepositions of time, as their name suggests, help you situate people, places, things and events in time. The French prepositions of time are:

For the most part, many of these prepositions act the way they do in English… of course, with a few exceptions:

1. depuis 

Depuis is used like “since” when speaking about things that have occurred since a specific date:

Elle habite à Paris depuis 2006.
(She has lived in Paris since 2006.)

However, it is also used with certain durations.

Take a look at these examples:

Elle habite à Paris depuis 2 ans.

Elle revient à Paris pour 2 ans.

Elle a habité à Paris pendant 2 ans.

The first example means that she has lived in Paris for the past two years. She moved to Paris two years ago. We do not know if or when she will leave Paris.

The second example means that she plans to be returning to Paris for two years. She has an established plan to be in Paris for two years, at which point, she will be leaving Paris.

The last example means that at some point in the past, she lived in Paris for two years, but she no longer lives in Paris.

2. pour vs. pendant 

This also shows you, to a certain extent, the difference between pour and pendant. Pour refers to an established duration of time in the future or in the present and future. Pendant refers to a duration of time at any time. 

Pour can also be used to establish a deadline. For example:

Il faut terminer le projet pour le 15.
(The project must be finished by/for the 15th.)

French Prepositions of Movement

Prepositions are also used to describe movement. While these prepositions are often related to prepositions of space, they are not always the same.

Here are the French prepositions of movement:

The only tough point here is that à and de are modified based on the object of the preposition, or the noun that follows:

1. à

With à, the form is modified in the following manner depending on whether the object of the preposition is feminine, masculine or plural, or if it begins with a vowel:

Je vais à l’école.
(I’m going to school.)

Je vais au supermarché.
(I’m going to the supermarket.)

Je vais aux Seychelles.
(I’m going to the Seychelles.)

Je vais à la bibliothèque.
(I’m going to the library.)

2. de

In much the same way, de is modified depending on whether the object of the preposition is feminine, masculine or plural, or if it begins with a vowel:

Je reviens de l’école.
(I just got back from school.)

Je reviens du supermarché.
(I just got back from the supermarket.)

Je reviens des Seychelles.
(I just got back from the Seychelles.)

Je reviens de la bibliothèque.
(I just got back from the library.)


French prepositions depend a lot on context, so to master them, you’ll need to understand how they’re used in different situations. FluentU lets you look up each French preposition in its multimedia dictionary and see sentence and video examples. You can also save them into a flashcard deck and then do regular reviews, from listening tests to fill-in-the-blank questions. 

Once you’ve mastered basic French prepositions, it will be much easier to address compound prepositions—but that’s another story for another time!

Until then, keep using your basic prepositions, and practice them every chance you get.

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