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TNs, U40: Places 1(Spatial Prepositions, Special Rules: Cities & Countries)

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Spatial Prepositions

Expressing locations in French can be tricky because many English prepositions don't have one-to-one French translations. This is especially true for "in", which can be dans, en, or à depending on how specific the location is.

Dans means "in" for specific, known locations. It is especially appropriate when the location name has an article or possessive.

  • Il mange dans le restaurant. — He's eating in the restaurant.
  • Un chat est dans ma chambre. — A cat is in my room.

Use à and its contractions for unspecific or vague locations.

  • On vit à la campagne. — We live in the country.
  • C'est dangereux à la frontière. — It's dangerous at the frontier.

When describing a location that doesn't require a determiner (usually a type of place), use en.

  • Nous sommes en classe. — We are in class.
  • Elle est en prison. — She is in prison.

Special Rules: Cities and Countries

For all cities (and islands), use à for "to" or "in" and de for "from".

  • Le roi vit à Versailles. — The king lives in Versailles.
  • Nous allons à Paris. — We are going to Paris.
  • Napoléon vient de Corse. — Napoleon comes from Corsica.
  • Je l'envoie d'Orléans. — I am sending it from Orleans.

Plural islands use the prepositions aux and des.

  • Je veux aller aux Philippines. — I want to go to the Philippines.
  • Il vient des Antilles. — He comes from the West Indies.

Countries, provinces/states, and continents have gender-based rules. For feminine ones, en means "to" or "in" and de means "from". Luckily, all continents are feminine, as are most countries ending in -e.

  • Bordeaux est en France. — Bordeaux is in France.
  • Il reste en Europe. — He is staying in Europe.
  • On vient de Californie. — We come from California.
  • Elle part d'Asie. — She is departing from Asia.

For masculine countries that start with a consonant sound, use au and du.

  • Je veux aller au Mexique. — I want to go to Mexico.
  • Elles partent du Japon. — They are departing from Japan.

If they start with a vowel sound, switch back to en and d’ for euphony.

  • Il y a une guerre en Irak. — There is a war in Iraq.
  • J'arrive d'Afghanistan — I am coming from Afghanistan.

For countries with pluralized names, use aux and des.

  • On travaille aux États-Unis. — We work in the United States.
  • Elles viennent des Pays-bas — They are from the Netherlands.

Cardinal points are not capitalized, masculine and usually keep their articles. Tu habites au nord. — You live in the North. Nous venons du sud. — We are coming from the South. Le soleil se lève à l’est. — The sun rises in the East. Le vent souffle de l’ouest. — The wind is blowing from the West.

Country To or In From
feminine en de, d’
masculine beginning in a consonant au du
masculine beginning in a vowel en d’
plural aux des
State or Province To or In From
feminine en de
masculine beginning in a consonant au, dans le du
masculine beginning in a vowel en, dans l’ d’, de l’

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