Easy Learning French

à, de and en - Easy Learning Grammar French

1 à

  • Be careful not to confuse the preposition à with the il/elle/on form of the verb avoir: il a (meaning he has) and so on.
TipWhen à is followed by le, the two words become au. Similarly, when à is followed by les, the two words become aux.
  • For more information on Articles, see Articles.
  • à can mean at.
Les melons se vendent à 2 euros pièce.Melons are selling at 2 euros each.
Nous roulions à 100 km à l’heure.We were driving at 100 km an hour
J’ai lancé une pierre à Chantal.I threw a stone at Chantal.
Je suis à la maison.I’m at home.
  • Note that à la maison can also mean to the house.
Je rentre à la maison.I’m going back to the house or back home.
  • à can mean in.
Nous habitons à la campagne.We live in the country.
Mon père est à Londres.My father is in London.
Restez au lit.Stay in bed.
Jean est entré, un livre à la main.Jean came in with a book in his hand.
Tipà is used to mean in with the names of towns and cities, and au (singular) or aux (plural) with the names of countries that are masculine in French.
J’habite au Mexique.I live in Mexico.
Elle est aux États-Unis.She’s in the States.
  • à can mean to.
Je vais au cinéma ce soir.I’m going to the cinema tonight.
Donne le ballon à ton frère.Give the ball to your brother.
Tipà is used to mean to with the names of towns and cities, and au (singular) or aux (plural) with the names of countries that are masculine in French.
Je vais assez souvent à Paris.I go to Paris quite often.
Il va aux États-Unis la semaine prochaine.He’s going to the States next week.
  • à is also used with de to mean from … to …
le trajet de Londres à Paristhe journey from London to Paris
La banque est ouverte de 9 heures à midi.The bank is open from 9 to 12.
Je suis en vacances du 21 juin au 5 juillet.I’m on holiday from 21 June to 5 July.
  • à can mean on.
Il y a deux beaux tableaux au mur.There are two beautiful paintings on the wall.
Le bureau se trouve au premier étage.The office is on the first floor.
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a à la télé ce soir?What’s on TV tonight?
  • Note that à and sur can both mean on in English. sur usually means on the top of something. sur la télé means on top of the TV set, but à la télé means broadcast on TV. Both can be translated as on the TV in English. sur le mur means on top of the wall, but au mur means hanging on the wall.
  • à is often used to describe:
  • what someone looks like or is wearing
la femme au chapeau vertthe woman with the green hat
un garçon aux yeux bleusa boy with blue eyes
  • how something is done
fait à la mainhand-made
laver à la machineto machine-wash
  • what a type of food is made of
une tarte aux poiresa pear tart
un sandwich au jambona ham sandwich
  • how you travel
On y va à pied?Shall we walk?
Il est venu à vélo.He came on his bike.
TipApart from à vélo and à cheval (meaning on horseback), the prepositions en and par are used with most other means of transport.
  • à can also show what something is used for.
une boîte aux lettresa letter box
une machine à lavera washing machine
une tasse à caféa coffee cup
  • Note that une tasse à café means a coffee cup, but une tasse de café means a cup of coffee. In the same way, un verre à vin means a wine glass but un verre de vin means a glass of wine.
  • à is used with times, centuries and the names of festivals.
à trois heuresat three o’clock
au vingtième sièclein the twentieth century
à Noëlat Christmas
à Pâquesat Easter
  • à is used to talk about distances and rates.
La maison est à 6 kilomètres d’ici.The house is 6 kilometres from here.
C’est à deux minutes de chez moi.It’s two minutes from my place.
Je suis payé à l’heure.I’m paid by the hour.
  • à shows who owns something, or whose turn it is.
Ce cahier est à Paul.This notebook is Paul’s.
C’est à toi?Is this yours?
C’est à qui de nettoyer la salle de bains?Whose turn is it to clean the bathroom?
  • If you want to say where something hurts, you use à.
J’ai mal à la tête.I’ve got a headache.
J’ai mal aux jambes.My legs ache.
J’ai mal à la gorge.I’ve got a sore throat.
  • à is used with certain adjectives.
Son écriture est difficile à lire.His/Her writing is difficult to read.
Je suis prêt à tout.I’m ready for anything.
  • à is used with certain verbs.
s’intéresser à quelque choseto be interested in something
penser à quelque choseto think about something
  • Finally, some common ways of saying goodbye contain à.
À bientôt!See you soon!
À demain!See you tomorrow!
À samedi!See you Saturday!
À tout à l’heure!See you later!

2 de

  • de is used as part of the partitive article, which is usually the equivalent of some or any in English.
TipWhen de is followed by le, the two words become du. Similarly, when de is followed by les, the two words become des.
  • For more information on Articles, see Articles.
  • de can mean from.
Je viens d’Édimbourg.I’m from Edinburgh.
une lettre de Rachida letter from Rachid
Je la vois de temps en temps.I see her from time to time.
Tipde changes to d’ in front of a word starting with a vowel, most words starting with h, and the French word y.
  • de is also used with à to mean from … to …
le trajet de Londres à Paristhe journey from London to Paris
La banque est ouverte de 9 heures à midi.The bank is open from 9 to 12.
Je suis en vacances du 21 juin au 5 juillet.I’m on holiday from 21 June to 5 July.
  • de often shows who or what something belongs to.
un ami de la famillea friend of the family
les fenêtres de la maisonthe windows of the house
la voiture de Marie-PierreMarie-Pierre’s car
  • de can indicate what something contains, when it usually corresponds to
    of in English.
une boîte d’allumettesa box of matches
deux bouteilles de vintwo bottles of wine
une tasse de caféa cup of coffee
  • Note that une tasse de café means a cup of coffee but une tasse à café means a coffee cup. In the same way, un verre à vin means a wine glass but un verre de vin means a glass of wine.
  • de can describe what material something is made of.
une robe de cotona cotton dress
une porte de boisa wooden door
Tipen can also be used to say what something is made of, and is used when it is important to stress the material.
un bracelet en ora gold bracelet
  • You can use de to say what something is used for.
un sac de couchagea sleeping bag
un terrain de foota football pitch
un arrêt de busa bus stop
  • de is found after superlatives (the most…, the biggest, the least ... and so on).
la plus belle ville du mondethe most beautiful city in the world
le film le moins intéressant du festivalthe least interesting film in the festival
  • de is used in phrases to talk about quantities.
Elle fait beaucoup de fautes.She makes a lot of mistakes.
Combien de personnes as-tu invitées?How many people have you invited?
  • de is used with certain adjectives.
Je suis très surpris de te voir.I’m very surprised to see you.
Il est triste de partir.He’s sad to be leaving.
Grammar Extra!If you want to use an adjective after quelque chose, rien, quelqu’un and personne, you link the words with de.
quelqu’un d’importantsomeone important
quelque chose d’intéressantsomething interesting
rien d’amusantnothing funny
  • de is found after certain verbs.
dépendre de quelque choseto depend on something
parler de quelque choseto talk about something

3 en

  • Note that en is never followed by an article such as le, du or des.
  • en is used to talk about a place. It can be the equivalent of the English
    to or in.
Je vais en ville.I’m going to town.
Il a un appartement en ville.He has a flat in town.
Nous allons en France cet été.We’re going to France this summer.
Nous habitons en France.We live in France.
Tipen is used with the names of countries that are feminine in French. Use à with the names of towns and cities, and au or aux with masculine countries.
  • en is used to talk about years and months, and to say how long something will take, when it is the equivalent of in/within:
en 1923in 1923
en janvierin January
Je le ferai en trois jours.I’ll do it in three days.
Grammar Extra!en and dans can both be used in French to talk about a length of time, but the meaning is very different.
Je le ferai dans trois jours.I’ll do it in three days.
Je le ferai en trois jours.I’ll do it in three days.
Though both can be translated in the same way, the first sentence means that you’ll do it in three days’ time; the second means that it will take three days for you to do it.
  • en is used with the names of the seasons, except for spring.
en étéin summer
en automnein autumn
en hiverin winter
BUT: au printempsin spring
  • en is used for most means of transport.
Je suis venu en voiture.I came by car.
C’est plus rapide en train.It’s quicker by train.
Il est allé en Italie en avion.He flew to Italy.
TipThe prepositions à and par are also used with means of transport.
  • Use en to say what language something is in.
une lettre écrite en espagnola letter written in Spanish
Dis-le en anglais.Say it in English.
  • en can be used to say what something is made of when you particularly want to stress the material.
un bracelet en ora bracelet made of gold, a gold bracelet
un manteau en cuira coat made of leather, a leather coat
Tipde can also be used to say what something is made of.
une porte de boisa wooden door
  • en often describes the situation or state that something or someone is in.
Je suis en vacances.I’m on holiday.
La voiture est en panne.The car’s broken down.
Tu es toujours en retard!You’re always late!
  • en is found before present participles, the form of the verb that ends in -ing in English and -ant in French.
Je fais mes devoirs en regardant la télé.I do my homework while watching TV.
Il m’a vu en passant devant la porte.He saw me as he came past the door.
Key points
  • à, de and en are very frequent prepositions which you will use all the time.
  • Each of them has several possible meanings, which depend on the context they are used in.

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