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à vs de in these sentences


i read somewhere that 'to write with the left hand ' translates to: écrire de la main gauche

but 'made with the hand (to hand make )' translates to fait à la main.

https://www.thoughtco.com/a-vs-de-french-prepositions-4080520 This website that i found says that à and de can both be used when the sentence is describing the manner or means in which the verb is done (like writing or making in the above examples). Is there a way to know when to use de or à in sentences like these? And in similar sentences like 'spoken with the mouth' or 'to walk with the foot' or 'made with the arms'?


March 16, 2018



The other post has many good resources, but I found it most helpful when I realized that prepositions are not logical or at least there isn't a one-to-one correspondence for them between languages. That freed me to be able to start memorizing expressions or chunks of words in context:

Tasse à thé = tea cup (may or may not have tea inside)

Tasse de thé = cup of tea (a cup that contains tea)

Here are a bunch of à pied expressions- http://www.wordreference.com/fren/%C3%A0%20pied

After a while, you start to see patterns and can extrapolate, but first paying attention to new expressions that I see and trying to figure them out as been the only way to start navigating the prepositions for me.

There are a bunch of exercises online for practicing. Here is an example at the bottom of this page: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/a-vs-de/


They are not referred to under the same category on that website.

The first, "écrire de la main gauche" - "to write with the left hand" is categorised under the heading "Means / manner of doing something"

and the second, "fait à la main" - "made by hand" is categorised under the heading "Manner, style, or characteristic".

So it does not actually say

that à and de can both be used when the sentence is describing the manner or means in which the verb is done

As most people speak with their mouth, all that is required is the verb parler remembering that "parler à "is "to speak to", "parler de " is "to talk about" and "parler avec " - as in "Elle parle avec ses mains " → "She talks with her hands."
"à pied" is to go somewhere "on foot".

I think that it would be pretty difficult to make something with your arms and not your hands, but there are artists without limbs that "paint by mouth" but I have no idea how that is said in French as I have never had the need to learn how to say it.

French prepositions are a pain for learners like us but it is just a matter of remembering where each is used.

I concur with elizadeux, learn them in combination with other words - that is, in the context of how they are used, and, yes, WordRef is an invaluable source of information.


As you asked a very similar question today, I can tell that you are still struggling with this.

Prepositions are hard and there is not any easy way. Translations are often not word for word literal translations.

If you expect "to" to always be "à" then it will be more confusing for you than necessary because "à" can also translate to at, in, on, until, through and many other things depending on the context. Wordreference is a very good resource to check all the different possible translations and definitions.



Thank you so much to everyone!. Yeah you're right, there seems to be no solid rule about this topic, it might come with experience. I actually didn't mean to post this question so many times, I thought it wasn't going through because it would give me an error message, so I would change it and try over and over again today. To my horror, it was posting every time! Im sorry about that omg. The word reference is very useful, I didn't know it existed, thanks!


I'm wondering if a more detailed explanation about the specific examples you mentioned might help.

Here is the literal translation of this sentence fragment: "faire à la main" So, it's literally "to make by the hand," but the idiomatic translation would be "to make by hand."

Faire (verb) = to make (in this case) ... but faire can also mean other things (http://www.wordreference.com/fren/faire)

à = by

la main = the hand

On the other hand (ok - bad pun), here is the literal translation of this sentence fragment: fait à la main = made by the hand. However, the entire description means "handmade" in English

Fait (adjective) = made (http://www.wordreference.com/enfr/made)

à = by

la main = the hand

Here is the literal translation of this sentence: "Comment apprendre à écrire de la main gauche," The literal translation to English would be: "How to learn how to to write with the left hand." Of course, we wouldn't say that in English and the more idiomatic translation is "How to learn to write with your left hand."

Comment = how

apprendre à = to learn how to (à is required when the verb apprendre is followed by another infinitive in French - but not in English) https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/verbs-with-a/

écrire = to write

de = with (in this case)

la main gauche = the left hand - but would be your left hand in English

If it's still confusing, don't worry too much. Note that a vs de is a common mistake for advanced french students https://www.thoughtco.com/top-advanced-french-mistakes-1369441


Here is another discussion that talks about these sorts of issues.

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