Overview of prepositions in French

Prepositions are generally the "linking" words like to, from, for, between, beside, under, within etc. Notice the following features of prepositions in English:

  • they generally form a closed category: in other words, unlike nouns and verbs, there is more or less a "fixed list" of prepositions in the language and, whilst new prepositions do occasionally appear and existing ones fall out of usage, this is hugely rare compared to the case of nouns and verbs1;
  • their form is fixed: they don't have plural forms, past tense forms etc;
  • as with many verbs, prepositions can have an object: between the houses, and in some cases the object may be optional (so for example, you can say either he was inside the house or simply he was inside)— in other words, like verbs, prepositions may be transitive or intransitive;
  • several words are sometimes used together as though they are a compound preposition, especially with of, from or to as the last word— next to, apart from, out of, due to, in favour of etc;
  • there are a few words— in particular just, right and straight— that often "introduce" a preposition: just in front of the station, straight across the road, smack bang next to the church etc;
  • very occasionally, they are used as postpositions, i.e. they come after the noun: three days ago, nine months hence, that proposal notwithstanding, the world over, a stone's throw away;
  • sometimes, prepositions have a clear individual meaning in a sentence (he went to the station) and sometimes they're chosen "just because" that's the preposition that people use in a given expression (he stood to attention; this is different from/to the rest, where there's essentially no difference in meaning between the two prepositions);
  • many prepositions can have objects that are verb phrases, especially with -ing forms: besides him coming, after they came back (or after them coming back), despite them leaving on time, between them leaving and us arriving etc;
  • pronouns, when they are the object of prepositions, use the objective form: so with me (not with I), before her (not before she) etc2.

Prepositions in French generally also share these features with a few variations.

List of French prepositions

On the next and subsequent pages, we give various lists of prepositions in French. It is recommended that you start with the list of "basic" French prepositions on the next page, from where you can then move on to other lists of less basic prepositions, compound prepositions etc.

1. Even fairly "new" prepositions in English, such as re, via, vis-à-vis, chez apparently date back to the 1700s. The loan prefix über— apparently traceable back to Nietzsche's term Übermensch from 1883 but which has recently seen a revival in words such as übergeek— is perhaps a candidate for being the next new preposition in English. French has a few more recent additions to its repertoire of prepositions: via and versus, unlike in English where their usage is much older, appear to be 19th and 20th century coinings in French. The slang loanword bicose (also spelt bicause or because) from English "because" but usually meaning because of in French, may also be a 20th century coining: Larousse (1992), Dictionnaire de l'argot, cites a first attestation date of 1928.
2. When a pronoun is coordinated with another pronoun or noun, some English speakers use the subject form for the second pronoun, e.g. between Jane and I. This construction does not exist in French, and the objcetive form is always used: entre Marie et moi, never entre Marie et je.

 French grammar index
 French-English dictionary
 English-French dictionary

This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.