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"ici", "là" and "là-bas" in French

  • 1397

"ici", "là" and "là-bas" are French adverbs.

1) "ici" refers to a place that is at the same place as the person speaking, or very close. It means "here".

  • ex: "Je suis ici." means "I am here."
  • ex: "Ma clé est ici." means "My key is here."

2) "là" can have 2 meanings: "here" and "there"

You have to use the context of the sentence to determine whether is is better to use "ici" or "là".

  • ex: "Je suis là." means "I am here." (same meaning as "Je suis ici."). Here, you can guess that the person speaking is close to the person he is talking to.
  • ex: "Mon ordinateur est au bureau. Je sais qu'il est là." means "My computer is at the office. I know that it is there." In this case, "là" implies a distance between the person speaking and the object.

3) "là-bas" refers to a place that is far from the person speaking, and means "there", "down there" or "over there".

  • "There". Ex: "J'ai un ami à New York. J'aimerais aller là-bas." means "I have a friend in New York. I would like to go there."
  • "Down there". Ex: "Du haut de la Tour Eiffel, on voit Montmartre là-bas." means "From the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can see Montmartre down there."
  • "Over there". Ex: "Où est l'école ? L'école est là-bas." means "Where is the school? The school is over there."
March 21, 2014



Seems to me that this is very similar to the German "hier" "da" and "dort". (I know this is not related to French, but some users here learn multiple languages, and I, personally, sometimes find it helpful to link them.)

Some of the same sentences in German, in case someone is interested:

1) Ich bin hier. Mein Schlüssel ist hier.

2) Ich bin da (for example saying something when coming back home).

Mein Computer ist im Büro. Ich weiss, dass er da ist.

3) Ich habe einen Freund in New York. Ich würde gerne dort hin gehen.


Good example of the ambiguity of the German da are different translations (in the same language and across different languages) of Heidegger's term Dasein, which is usually translated as either "being-there" or "being-here". Since Dasein is such an important concept in Heidegger's thought, these two different translations emphasize two different aspects of being, experience, and everything in-between: absence (there, then, trace, potentiality) or presence (here, now, actuality). But since Heidegger didn't use neither "Hiersein" nor "Dortsein", we can say that he wanted to emphasize this "here-there" of the da. (Though the word existed in common use before Heidegger and means something like "presence, existence, to be there").

Sorry for a little excursion in philosophy, but da is an interesting concept that is hard to translate into most of the other languages. French version complies with Remy's explanation above: être-là.


One concept to explain "da" is that it is simply a pointer. It may point to something close or distant or abstract, similar to "là". "Dort" is only for locations. The English "there" isn't to far from this idea of "da", when it is clearly not simply referring to a location.

There are concepts. (no real location here)




Funny how one can say "here, there are some things" / "ici, il y a des choses". Pointer is a really nice word for it, especially appropriate for the French y, which is also a pronoun (c'est-à-dire, un pointeur par excellence).

"Pointer" also works nicely for Heidegger. (Let me humor you...) He actually develops an extensive - and for his thought fundamental - concept of pointers and pointing, but calls it by some other almost synonymous word. It has to do with how we understand things and beings or rather how they have meaning: they point to each other (e.g. a hammer is pointing to a potential production of a table), creating a meaningful whole (world), everything relating back to our own existence (e.g. even something as "cold" and rational as science is on a fundamental level only meaningful in its relation to our existence, our hunger for knowledge and control or our care for survival).
(The French words "signification" [meaning] and "signifier" [to mean] nicely show how meaning is in close relation to pointing, this time under the name of a "sign".)
This existence that I mentioned is what Heidegger calls Dasein (i.e. we are Dasein), "being-there". The name refers to the fact that we are always already "there" in the world (that meaningful whole of pointing), which is basically a critique of the radical distinction between subject and object that is perhaps best represented in Descartes's doubt of an external world.
"Da" as a pointer can also refer to the fact that we are "pointing" ourselves into the past (via our memories) and into the future (via our projects) and it is only because of this pointing out of the present (and presence) that we can have an attitude to our own existence and its possibilities (e.g. contrary to a stone which is "indifferent"/"doesn't care"); this attitude is what we call "being alive".


I think therefore I've been pointing to myself ;)


You may also wanna take a look at these maps:


The page is in German, but the three maps are:

1) Siehst du das Haus ___ hinten? — "Are you seeing the house back there?"
2) Ist es ___ (=auf deinem Platz) hell genug? — "Is it bright enough there (=on your place)?"
3) New York interessiert mich sehr – bist du schon mal ___ gewesen? — "New York interests me a lot, have you ever been there?"

Basically, German speakers can't really decide when to use what. Especially Swiss speakers.


I am not sure, if it is meant like this that "da" is missing in all the three sentences? Just to write the correct versions once:

1) "Siehst du das Haus DA/DORT hinten." (Here, without "da" or "dort", it would be wrong.)

2) "Ist es (DA/DORT) hell genug?" (Here, "da" is only needed, if one wants to precise the place.)

3) "[...] bist du schon mal DA/DORT gewesen?" (Again, withouth "da" or "dort", it would be wrong.)



Oh, my formatting got weird, sorry. Let me fix that


Also similar is Spanish... Aquí, acá, allí, allá!


Interesting. I've also noticed that sometimes that là is linked to some words such as "dimanche-là", and I think that also applies to ici or "ci". I wonder if it changes its meaning in some instances or it always has the same meaning.

  • 1397

When you add "-ci" and "-là" after words, it also gives an indication of closeness ("-ci") or distance ("-là"). It is the same difference as the one that exists between "this" and "that" in English.

  • Ex: "Veux-tu cette pomme-ci (qui est devant toi), ou cette pomme-là (qui est au bout de la table)?" means "Do you want this apple (in front of you), or that apple (at the end of the table)?"


Thanks for clearing that up. I was also wondering what kind of words can you stick it to, is it just any noun, or are there specific requirements for the words?

For example:

  • La femme avec laquelle je vis est cette femme-là.
  • J'aime cette viande-là.

Would those two be accurate?

  • 1397

Those 2 examples of "-là" after nouns are accurate.

You can also add them after demonstrative pronouns:

"celui" (masc. sing.):

  • ex: "Veux-tu celui-ci ou celui-là ?" means "Do you want this one or that one?"

"celle" (fem. sing.):

  • ex: "Veux-tu celle-ci ou celle-là ?" means "Do you want this one or that one?"

"ceux" (masc. plur.):

  • ex: "Veux-tu ceux-ci ou celle-là ?" means "Do you want these ones or those one?"

"celles" (fem. plur.):

  • ex: "Veux-tu celles-ci ou celles-là ?" means "Do you want these ones or those ones?"


As a side note, it's remarkable what that little hyphen (trait d'union, trattino) does. Contrast it with the Itallan habit of attaching pronouns to the verb form without hyphenation. In the spoken language it makes no difference, but I think it it does in the brain. Likewise, in the inverted interrogative forms of French. Maybe distance from Latin is a good thing, or at least something that makes it easier for a non-native to grasp? Grazie e/et merci to both of you.


"ci" and là" can also be prefixes for adverbs of place. How do they work? I've seen both "in front of that" and "there in front" as translations of "là-devant". I'm guessing "there in front" is closer to the French meaning, even though both partially imply each other. Can "là-" as a prefix also mean "here" in some contexts?


Thank you very much for that clarification. "Jrikhal" had already explained this to me from the Spanish version. However, I will send you reports from English because in most of cases the system marks incorrect when I translate "here" for "lá". For example: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/1688468

  • 1397

You're welcome :-) "Here" is now accepted for the sentence you reported.

Sometimes, it can be a bit tricky to accept both "there" and "here" for "là", since some sentence tend to have more one signification than the other.


  • "Je suis là.": it can mean "I am here/there".
  • "Je suis née là.": it rather means "I was born there.", than "I was born here."


I guess it changes from one French native speaker to another one. Because, personally, I say:
- I was born here. -> Je suis née là/ici.
- I was born there. -> J'y suis née. / Je suis née là-bas.


Another way to explain is that it refers to a place. If no place has been defined before, it defaults to here.


Thank you again for a good piece of French grammar advice, Rémy. I've added it to our list of French grammar tips discussion too.


ALERT if you do nothing else today save this link to your bookmarks (favourites). The link takes you to grammer tips and has saved me hours of trawling the internet.


Just gave you 5 of my lingots. Thanks so much for this collection!


Very clarifying. Thank you!


Merci beaucoup Remy!


In Lithuanian Labas means Hello :D and la is shorther form of labas like hi,,,


Hi, I'm new here and I relly enjoy your explanation! Thanks! By the way..do you speak Portuguese? I'm Brazilian! See you!


But why to say "Je suis là", if I can say "Je suis ici"?


When you say "je suis là" you give an indication of your presence (you are not missing). But with "je suis ici" you are clearly talking about your current location.

  • 1397

"Je suis là" usually means "I am here". "Je suis ici" usually means "I am right here".


Thanks, I was wondering about this topic!


Fantastic. Thank you much!


Thanks, it`s really helpful. I was confused about the use of LÀ and ici, mainly in games where I pass most of the time forcing my french to learn with dialogues and texts. Thank you or Merci ;)

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