When to Choose Between ‘À’ and ‘De’ in French: Usage Guidelines

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In this article, I am going to explain, When to Choose Between ‘À’ and ‘De’ in French. Learn How to Use These Common French Prepositions.

Prepositions are linking words in French that come before nouns or pronouns to explain their connection with other words in a sentence. The use of “à” and “de” in French can be tricky because they have various meanings depending on the context.

This lesson will clarify when to use each preposition, particularly in relation to verbs, helping you avoid common confusion among French learners.

Check also: French Verb Asseoir Conjugation, Meaning, Translation, Examples

À vs. De: French Prepositions

The French prepositions à and de can be challenging for French learners. In general, à often translates to “to,” “at,” or “in,” while de is similar to “of” or “from.” These two prepositions have multiple uses, so let’s compare them to understand when and how to use each one.

À: Je vais à la plage. (I’m going to the beach.)

De: Je viens de la plage. (I’m coming from the beach.)

À: Elle étudie à l’université. (She studies at the university.)

De: Elle est diplômée de l’université. (She graduated from the university.)

À: Il travaille à Paris. (He works in Paris.)

De: Il est originaire de Paris. (He is originally from Paris.)

À: Nous allons à la fête. (We’re going to the party.)

De: Nous revenons de la fête. (We’re coming back from the party.)

À: Elle a acheté un cadeau à son ami. (She bought a gift for her friend.)

De: Le cadeau de son ami est magnifique. (Her friend’s gift is beautiful.)

À: J’ai répondu à la question. (I answered the question.)

De: La réponse de l’élève était correcte. (The student’s answer was correct.)

À: Ils se sont mariés à l’église. (They got married in the church.)

De: La cérémonie de mariage était émouvante. (The wedding ceremony was touching.)

À: Je parle à mon professeur. (I’m talking to my teacher.)

De: J’ai appris beaucoup de mon professeur. (I learned a lot from my teacher.)

À: Elle chante à l’opéra. (She sings at the opera.)

De: L’opéra de Paris est célèbre. (The Paris Opera is famous.)

À: Nous allons à la montagne. (We’re going to the mountains.)

De: Les paysages de montagne sont magnifiques. (Mountain landscapes are beautiful.)

Additional Uses of À

The use of “à” extends beyond the examples mentioned earlier. Here are two additional situations where you should use this preposition.

  1. Measurement:
    • Acheter au kilo (To buy by the kilogram): On achète les fruits au kilo. (We buy fruits by the kilogram.)
    • Payer à la semaine (To pay by the week): Ils paient leur loyer à la semaine. (They pay their rent by the week.)
  2. Point in time:
    • Nous arrivons à 5h00 (We arrive at 5:00): Le train arrive à 5h00. (The train arrives at 5:00.)
    • Il est mort à 92 ans (He died at the age of 92): Il a vécu jusqu’à l’âge de 92 ans. (He lived until the age of 92.)

Additional Uses of De

The preposition “de” has additional uses beyond those mentioned earlier. It is frequently used when discussing the cause and the way in which something is done.


  • mourir de faim: to die of/from hunger
  • fatigué du voyage: tired from the trip

Means/manner of doing something

  • écrire de la main gauche: to write with the left hand
  • répéter de mémoire: to recite from memory

Using À and De With Verbs

It’s crucial to grasp the distinction between the French prepositions à and de because the meaning of certain verbs relies on whether you use à or de. Additionally, for other verbs, both prepositions can be employed in the same sentence.

Verbs with Different Meanings When Using À or De

  • J’aide à manger. (I help to eat.)
  • Je pense à manger. (I think about eating.)
  • Elle commence à pleurer. (She starts to cry.)
  • Elle songe à pleurer. (She thinks about crying.)
  • Il réussit à voler. (He succeeds in flying.)
  • Il rêve de voler. (He dreams of flying.)
  • Ils consentent à vendre. (They agree to sell.)
  • Ils rêvent de vendre. (They dream of selling.)
  • Tu tiens à chanter. (You insist on singing.)
  • Tu rêves de chanter. (You dream of singing.)

Expressions With À and De

The French prepositions à and de also find use in common expressions. While they often share similar meanings, the distinction between them is important. Keep in mind the key differences:

  • à means “to,” “at,” or “in”
  • de means “of” or “from”

Here are some common expressions where these prepositions play a role:

  • à côté: nearby, next to
  • de côté: sideways
  • à côté de: next to, beside
  • du côté de: from (direction)
  • à la hauteur: at the level
  • de hauteur: [5 feet] tall
  • il est à Paris: he’s in Paris
  • il est de Paris: he’s from Paris
  • prêt* à + inf.: prepared to
  • prêt* de + inf.: near, on the verge of
  • tasse à thé: teacup (cup for tea)
  • tasse de thé: cup of tea

Verbs With À or De

Some French verbs can take either à or de with little or no difference in meaning:

  • commencer à / de: to start
  • continuer à / de: to continue


In conclusion, understanding when to use ‘à’ and ‘de’ in French is a crucial aspect of mastering the language. These prepositions serve various functions, from indicating location and possession to describing means and manner of action. By following the usage guidelines provided, French learners can enhance their language skills and avoid common mistakes, ultimately improving their ability to communicate effectively in French.

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